Alimony In A Florida Divorce
By Orlando Alimony Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias
Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2005
Its Contentious Nature
My years of experience as a family lawyer in Florida tell me that alimony (or spousal support) generates the most friction and leads to the most litigation. Most divorcing spouses can usually accept the concept of dividing half of the marital assets and debts, and paying support for the children, but not to their ex-spouse.
Nothing puts a spouse in an emotional “battle mode” more than the prospect of continuing to make payments to their ex-spouse for an extended time after the divorce.
The Discretion of the Judges
The current alimony laws, in Section 61.08, Florida Statutes, gives judges an uncomfortably large amount of discretion regarding its amount and duration.
Unlike with child support, no “guidelines” exist for spousal support awards in Florida. In May 2013, Governor Rick Scott vetoed a bill that actually would have established something approaching such guidelines. The proponents of this bill are now weighing their options. Until a new statute is passed, however, spouses must deal with Section 61.08 of the Florida Statutes in its present form.
The Four Types of Alimony
Section 61.08, Florida Statutes, creates these four distinct types of spousal support:
This type of alimony assists the recipient spouse (obligee) in making the transition from married life to single life. It only addresses the obligee’s identifiable, short-term needs. Bridge-the-gap alimony cannot exceed two years, and neither its amount or duration can be modified.
Alimony of this variety provides the recipient spouse with the necessary funds to pay for the development of marketable skills. This typically involves paying for college or vocational courses.
In order to qualify for rehabilitative alimony, potential recipients must present a "specific and defined" plan outlining their proposed initiative. Unlike bridge-the gap, the rehabilitative version can be modified, either (1) through a post-judgment "substantial change in circumstances", (2) because of noncompliance with the plan, or (3) when the recipient completes the plan.
When permanent alimony is inappropriate, a court may order it to be "durational". This provides the obligee with payments for a set period of time (such as five years). The length of time awarded may not exceed the length of the marriage. Furthermore, the amount of the award may be modified upon showing a substantial change in circumstances after the judgment.
A court orders permanent alimony to spouses that will never be able to meet their needs without assistance. Permanent spousal support awards are usually (but not always) reserved for long-term marriages (17 or more years).
Before awarding permanent payments to an ex-spouse, a Florida court must first determine that no other form of this spousal support is fair and reasonable under the circumstances. An award of permanent support terminates upon the death of the paying spouse. It can also be modified if a substantial change in circumstances occurs after the marriage, or the recipient enters into a "supportive relationship" with another, as defined in Section 61.14 of the Florida Statutes.
Factors Considered In Setting The Amount
Regardless of the type of alimony that a trial court awards, in determining its amount, it must first consider the ten enumerated factors contained in Section 61.08(2), Florida Statutes . Florida appellate courts have distilled these ten factors into three essential considerations:
- The length of the marriage, with longer marriages resulting in longer periods of paying the spousal support.
- The recipient's financial need
- The obligor’s ability to pay it.
A divorcing spouse must keep in mind that both financial need and ability to pay must be established before any spousal support payment is awarded. A court will never award a former spouse a monthly payment amount that exceeds his or her proven monthly need. Also, Florida appellate courts have repeatedly declared that alimony is not designed to equalize the post-divorce incomes of the spouses.
Finally, the “standard of living established during the marriage”, while relevant, is not the guiding principle behind fashioning an award for spousal support. Many of my clients (and even a few attorneys) seemed surprised when I explained these principles to them.
How We Can Help You
If you have a dispute over spousal support in a divorce, call family law attorney Eduardo Mejias of AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 to schedule a free initial consultation. We can represent you in family law cases through mediation trial and, if necessary, in any appeals to the any of the Florida District Courts of Appeals.
During the free thirty-minute consultation we will listen to you and assess how we can help you with a plan to achieve your objectives. The assessment will be realistic and based on the experience of hundreds of family law cases. We will not give you a rosy picture of what we can do for you to entice you to sign up with us. And you will know what our fixed retainer fee will be before you pay or sign any contract.
These are the ranges of retainer fees charged by AAA Family Law for the type of case mentioned on this page. The actual amount depends on the degree of complexity of the case.
Contested Divorce Up To Mediation: $2,000 to $3,000. (An additional retainer amount is set before a trial if there is a trial.)
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