A proposed overhaul of the Florida alimony system has cleared several legislative hurdles recently, with a pair of similar bills making its way through the House and Senate. If passed, the legislation would eliminate “permanent alimony,” one of the most controversial aspects of Florida’s existing alimony law, as well as make several other major changes which would substantially impact family law litigants.
Alimony, also known as spousal support, is court-ordered financial support paid by one ex-spouse to the other after divorce. The purpose of alimony, as contemplated by the current laws and the precedent which has lead to them, is to provide for the needs of the less pecuniary spouse in the standard of living to which the parties became accustomed, or to correct for any unfair economic disadvantage that a spouse may encounter as a result of divorce or sacrifices made for the sake of the marriage.
Alimony determinations under current Florida law
Not every divorce results in an award of alimony; state law provides that a judge’s decision whether to award alimony should be based on a finding of genuine need by the recipient, as well on the other spouse’s ability to pay.
If both a need and ability to pay are established, current Florida alimony law gives judges a wide range of discretion in determining the amount and duration of an alimony award. A few examples of the numerous factors that judges may consider when awarding alimony include:
- The couple’s standard of living during the marriage
- The length of the marriage
- The age and health of each spouse
- Each spouse’s economic and non-economic contributions to the marriage
- Each spouse’s financial resources and earning capacity
- Each spouse’s responsibility for child care and parenting after divorce
Florida law provides that judges may also consider evidence of infidelity, typicallly to the extent it financially impacted the marital assets, as well as any other factors deemed necessary to establish fairness and justice between the parties.
Existing types of alimony in Florida
Alimony payments are typically made on a monthly basis, but can also be paid as a single lump sum or a combination of the two. Under existing Florida law, there are four types of alimony payments awarded after a divorce:
- Bridge-the-gap: Short-term financial support to aid in the transition from married life to single life, limited to two years in duration;
- Rehabilitative: Financial support intended to promote self-sufficiency through the development of job skills and credentials;
- Durational: Temporary financial support that continues for a set duration, limited to a maximum duration of the length of the marriage;
- Permanent: Financial support that continues until the death of either party or the remarriage of the receiving party.
Depending on the circumstances and upon an analysis of the statutory factors, a judge may order a single type of alimony or a combination of two or more.
Controversial reform could bring major changes
If passed, the new Florida alimony law would limit judge’s discretion in alimony decisions by creating a set formula for determining the amount and duration of alimony payments, similar to that is used to calculate child support payments. It would also eliminate the option for permanent alimony and would require alimony payments to stop when the payor reaches retirement age.
Other proposed changes include removing the marital standard of living as a factor to be considered in an award of alimony, as well as creating a presumption that both parties will experience a lower standard of living after divorce. This is a major modification to the current law, as much of the litigation in current and past alimony cases has been surrounding this highly contentious element. For example, if the parties enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle during the marriage, the recipient spouse would typically engage a forensic accountant or other financial expert to help analyze and prove his or her monthly financial needs based on that lifestyle. Conversely, the payor spouse would largely contest same, and often employ a vocational expert to show how employable the recipient might be after the divorce in an effort to show that the recipient is capable of contributing to his or her own support.
Supporters of the proposed reform say the new law would reflect changing realities about family life and would make alimony payments more consistent and predictable. Critics of the measure say it could be detrimental to older, former stay-at-home parents who have left the workforce for many years to raise children, or disabled spouses, also arguing that Florida’s current alimony laws — which were updated in 2010 and 2011 — are already among some of the most progressive in the nation.
Modification of current alimony obligations
One of the most controversial pieces of the proposed reform would make the application of the new law, if enacted, retroactive. This means that current alimony obligors would have the ability to terminate or modify their alimony obligations based solely on the new law, and alimony recipients could therefore be in jeopardy of having their alimony payments terminated. This would obviously open the floodgates for an unimaginable number of litigants to rush to the courthouse to file or reopen their family law cases in an attempt to take advantage of the change in the law.
Contact an attorney for more information
People considering divorce in Florida are encouraged to speak with an experienced divorce and alimony lawyer about their options for ensuring financial stability after divorce.