Regardless of Ability to Pay, Ex-Husband Allowed to Pursue Argument about Ex-Wife’s Need in Florida Alimony Dispute

Going to court can be a lot like athletic or other competitions. In each situation, you want to make sure that you give yourself as many avenues for success as you possibly can. A recent alimony dispute from Palm Beach County demonstrates this well. In this case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s decision that threw out an ex-husband’s alimony modification request. The appeals court revived the husband’s case because, regardless of whether or not the husband’s ability-to-pay argument was premature, he also presented a valid case of the wife’s reduced need for alimony, and that reduced-need argument alone was enough to allow him to continue pursuing his modification case.

The husband, L.F., and his wife, C.F., had divorced some time ago. As part of that divorce case, the wife received an award of alimony. In more recent times, the husband went back to court, asking for a modification of his alimony obligation. The husband had two arguments underlying his assertion that circumstances had changed and that the court should lower his alimony payments. First, the husband had recently retired, and this change in employment status had substantially lowered his income. Second, in the period following the couple’s divorce, the wife had come into “additional substantial and unanticipated” streams of income, which had greatly reduced the wife’s need for alimony.

Midway through the hearing on the husband’s request, the judge ended the trial and ruled in favor of the wife. Despite the early ending, the trial court had already heard about the husband’s reduced income due to his retirement the week before the trial. The court also heard about the wife’s new income, which included a lifetime monthly annuity payment and extensive assets she had received from her family and from her boyfriend.

Nevertheless, the trial court concluded that the husband’s request was “premature” because he had only been retired for a week. Due to the recentness of the change, the husband lacked a “track record” of post-retirement income, which meant that any attempt to assess the husband’s diminished ability to pay alimony would be improperly speculative.

The husband appealed, and he won. The reason he won was that he wisely put on a multifaceted case in the trial court, and the trial court improperly ruled against him based solely upon the deficiencies of a single facet of his case. Specifically, the law allows spouses to seek a modification in alimony if a significant change in circumstances has occurred that affects the paying spouse’s ability to pay or the recipient’s need for alimony. The husband in this case argued both aspects of this:  that both he and his ex-wife had experienced significant changes in circumstances, making him less able to pay alimony and the wife less in need of receiving alimony.

Even if the decision to rule against the husband’s ability-to-pay argument was proper (which it was not because the trial court impermissibly entered a ruling before the husband had rested his case), that had no impact on the second element of his case, which was independent from the first:  namely that, regardless of the husband’s ability to pay, the wife had a lessened need, and that change should trigger a modification.

In family court cases, as with many types of litigation, it is important to advance every possible claim available to you and every possible basis for ruling in your favor on each claim. This is one of many areas where experienced legal counsel can help you substantially. The experienced South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are here to help you in this and many other ways, ensuring that you are putting on a strong case. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Your Ex-Spouse’s New Partner and Your Florida Alimony Obligation, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 3, 2016

Florida Appeals Court Reverses Alimony Award for Failing to Provide for Wife’s Needs, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 27, 2016