Modification of Alimony and Retroactive Application in Florida

When you, as a spouse who owes an obligation of alimony, experience a substantial chance in your income, the law may provide you with certain avenues to obtaining a reduction in, or the elimination of, your alimony payments. In many situations, that change may even apply retroactively to some date in the past. A knowledgeable Fort Lauderdale alimony attorney can help you navigate the path to seeking a modification and a retroactive application of that modification. In one recent case, the First District Court of Appeal concluded that the elimination of a husband’s alimony obligation should have applied back to the date that his ex-wife began receiving payments from his military pension, since that was the date when she ceased having a need for alimony.

Holli and Michael were a couple from Santa Rosa County who had divorced. The couple had children, but their children were all legal adults. The one issue that proved to be a source of extensive litigation was alimony. The trial court issued one order modifying alimony, and the husband appealed. The appeals court reversed and sent the case back to the trial court.

At that time, the only basis for the award of alimony to the ex-wife that the appeals court could identify was the wife’s continued financial support of the couple’s children in college. This was a problem in Holli’s case because one parent’s support of a couple’s adult children is, in Florida, not a valid basis for determining that a spouse has a need for alimony. If a parent has a court-ordered obligation to support a child (or children) in college, that potentially can be the basis for a determination of need. In Holli’s situation, though, there was no judgment to that effect, meaning that she had no legal obligation to support the children, and her support could not be the basis for a determination of her need for alimony.

The case went back to the trial court, which terminated the husband’s alimony obligation. The trial judge did not make that termination retroactive, however. Again, Michael appealed. Again, the appeals court agreed with him and reversed the trial court. Florida law says that there’s a presumption that a modification of alimony or child support should apply retroactively. That’s because, in order to modify support at all, there must be some valid, qualifying triggering event (a “material change in circumstances”) that has already occurred in the past. The law generally presumes that, in most cases, the modification should apply retroactively.

In Holli and Michael’s situation, the triggering event was the wife’s beginning to receive payments from the husband’s military pension. Once she started receiving those payments, her legally recognized need for alimony stopped, even if she was still supporting the couple’s college-attending adult children. The pension payments were the triggering event, and the husband’s alimony modification should have been applied retroactively to that date. The trial court erred in not making that retroactive application.

Whether your case involves an assessment of an award of alimony, a petition for a reduction in alimony, or a petition to eliminate alimony completely, you need experienced counsel. The skilled South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been helping people with divorce and support issues for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Florida Appeals Court Revives Wife’s Alimony Case After Filing Problems Triggered Unfavorable Trial Court Ruling, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 6, 2017

Regardless of Ability to Pay, Ex-Husband Allowed to Pursue Argument about Ex-Wife’s Need in Florida Alimony Dispute, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 6, 2016