FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-01-20
New legislation proposed in the Florida House of Representatives would significantly alter many provisions of Florida’s existing alimony laws. The bill’s big changes could affect people going through divorce after the law is enacted as well as people with alimony orders going back as far as 12 years.
Existing Florida Alimony Laws
Currently, when a married couple gets divorced in Florida, a judge may grant alimony, sometimes known as spousal support, to either former spouse. In deciding whether to award alimony, Florida law requires judges to make factual determinations as to whether either person has an actual need for alimony and whether either person has the ability to pay it.
If so, the judge will award a type and an amount of alimony based on these factors listed in Florida statute:
- The standard of living established during the marriage.
- The length of the marriage.
- The age and physical and emotional condition of each person.
- The financial resources of each person, also considering the division of marital property.
- The earning capacities, education, vocational skills and employability of each person as well as the time necessary for each person to acquire education or training sufficient to find appropriate employment.
- The contribution of each person to the marriage, including services rendered in homemaking, child care, education and in support of the other person’s career.
- The child-care responsibilities of each person regarding minor children they have in common.
- The tax treatment of paying and receiving alimony.
- All sources of income available to each person.
- Any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.
Types of Florida Alimony
Florida Statutes also define four types of alimony, which may be combined in any form.
The first type is bridge-the-gap alimony, which may be awarded to support one former spouse in the transition from being married to being single. It is intended to help with legitimate, identifiable short-term needs, and it may not be awarded for a period longer than two years. Bridge-the-gap alimony awards are not modifiable, and the obligation to pay this type of support ends on the death of either former spouse or when the person receiving the alimony remarries.
The second type is rehabilitative alimony, which may be awarded to help a person become capable of self-support after divorce through the redevelopment of previous skills or credentials or the acquisition of education, training or work experience necessary to develop employment skills. Before rehabilitative alimony is awarded, a specific rehabilitative plan must be created. Florida statute states that rehabilitative alimony orders may be modified or terminated upon a substantial change in circumstances or upon failure to follow or completion of the rehabilitative plan.
The third type is durational alimony, which may be awarded to provide economic assistance to a former spouse for a set period of time after the dissolution of a marriage of less than 17 years. The amount awarded may be modified or terminated if there is a substantial change in circumstances, the duration of the award cannot be changed except under exceptional circumstances, and it cannot exceed the length of the marriage. Durational alimony terminates if a former spouse dies or if the recipient remarries.
Finally, permanent alimony may be awarded to provide for the needs and necessities of a former spouse’s life as they were established during the marriage. An award of permanent alimony is somewhat rare except following marriages that lasted 17 years or more. Permanent alimony awards may be modified or terminated if either former spouse dies, there is a substantial change in circumstances, or if the recipient remarries or is in a “supportive relationship” with another person as defined by Florida law.
Proposed Changes to Florida Alimony Law
The changes proposed in House Bill 549 would considerably alter Florida alimony. Perhaps most noteworthy, the bill would cap all alimony payments at a maximum of 20 percent of the payor’s average monthly net income over the last three years of the marriage. Also, the obligation to pay alimony would end when the payor reaches retirement age, even if he or she may continue to work.
The bill also would eliminate permanent alimony and replace it with long-term alimony for 60 percent of the duration of the marriage except in limited circumstances. In addition, it would make bridge-the-gap alimony modifiable, reduce the period of durational alimony to half the length of the marriage and increase the definition of a long-term marriage to 20 years or longer.
The proposed legislation states that the alimony award “may not leave the payor with significantly less net income than the net income of the recipient” unless exceptional circumstances exist. Further, when evaluating the financial resources available to each person, only assets and debts acquired during the marriage would be considered.
These possible changes could result in significantly lower alimony awards. Because the bill would prohibit consideration of the standard of living established during the marriage as a factor in determining alimony amounts, there could be much less alimony awarded to someone who married a spouse with significant assets coming into the marriage. The bill also would remove consideration of equity and justice when determining alimony amounts, which may limit the ability of judges to tailor awards to the unique circumstances of each case.
Another possible result would be greater flexibility to modify alimony awards. Conceivably, the 20 percent limitation would allow people paying alimony to modify the amounts if their economic situations change, such as losing a job or owning a business that has drastically lost revenue in the recession.
Finally, the proposed legislation also would open the door to re-evaluation of existing alimony awards, which may be revisited for possible modification under the new rules. If you are going through divorce or have an existing alimony award, contact a skilled Florida family law attorney to learn how this proposed legislation could affect you.