Retirement, Changes in Income and Modification of Alimony in Florida

retirementIn law, as with a lot of things in life, it pays to be well-versed in the details, be they small or great. For example, if you are preparing to retire, and your transition into retirement means a significant reduction of your income, do you know which rights this change provides when it comes to your alimony obligation? This and other questions are areas in which it pays to have representation from an experienced Florida alimony attorney.

One man facing that type of alimony scenario was Anthony, a firefighter. Anthony had filed for divorce in 2013 after 22 years of marriage. Anthony and his wife, Amy, worked out a marital settlement agreement. The agreement called for the husband to pay the wife $1,250 per month in durational alimony. The agreement said that it became enforceable when both spouses signed it, which happened in mid-September 2014. The trial judge, however, did not sign the final judgment in the divorce case until December 30.

These dates all mattered because of the change that occurred in the husband’s employment. In early December 2014, his pension board approved his retirement, effective Jan. 23, 2015. Three months into his retirement, the husband went back to court to seek a reduction in his alimony obligation. In support of his request, he pointed to his significantly reduced income in retirement.

When you seek a modification of your alimony obligation, you have to demonstrate to the court that you have experienced a “material change in circumstances.” You also, however, have to show that “the change was not contemplated at the time of the final judgment of dissolution,” according to an important 1992 Florida Supreme Court ruling on the topic. The trial judge concluded that, by the date of the final judgment, which was Dec. 30, 2014, the husband was already contemplating retirement, so he wasn’t entitled to a reduction.

The appeals court concluded that Dec. 30 was not the only important date. Section 61.14(1)(a) gives spouses who owe alimony obligations the opportunity to pursue a reduction if the alimony obligations are established by agreement, and “the circumstances or the financial ability of either party changes” after the agreements were reached.

In Anthony’s case, that meant that the key date for the court’s analysis was Sept. 19, when he and Amy signed the marital settlement agreement. He had not yet made his decision to retire as of Sept. 19, and he and Amy “necessarily failed to contemplate his retirement when they” worked out the agreement.

The court went on to explain that the fact that Anthony had made inquiries across a period of several years about possibly retiring was not enough to amount to “contemplating retirement” to an extent that it would have deprived him of an opportunity to go to court and seek a reduction in his alimony payments. As the court stated in its opinion, a “possibility that income will decrease is not knowledge that it will do so.” In order to prevent you from seeking a reduction based on this type of argument, your ex-spouse has to show that you knew your financial condition was about to change. Anthony did not have that type of definitive knowledge, so he was entitled to pursue his case for a reduction.

If you find yourself in a dispute over a modification of alimony, whether you are seeking the change or opposing it, the knowledgeable South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have the skills and resources to help. Our attorneys have been representing people in alimony modification, child support modification, and other family law cases for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Modification of Alimony and Retroactive Application in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 16, 2017

The Importance of Negotiating a Favorable Florida Marital Settlement Agreement, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 12, 2017

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