OVER THE PAST few years, advocates of alimony reform have been lobbying aggressively to change Florida’s alimony laws. The biggest concern among advocates for reform appears to be that Florida law still allows for lifetime, permanent alimony. Reform advocates argue that such permanent, lifetime alimony can be detrimental to the paying party, particularly as the paying party ages and perhaps experiences a decrease in income (such as in cases of retirement or medical disability) yet still bears the obligation of the initial alimony judgment.
The alimony reform bill presented in 2013 was vetoed by the Governor, largely due to concern about potential harm to parties who had been relying on alimony for years, decades even. In 2014, alimony reform legislation was essentially put on ice because of the Governor’s race. It is anticipated new alimony reform legislation will be back on the table in 2015, this time addressing some of the Governor’s concerns when he vetoed it in 2013.
Current Alimony Law in Florida
When making a determination regarding alimony (also known as “spousal support”) in Florida, the legal standard the courts use in their analysis is the need of one party for support, and the ability of the other party to pay said support.
If the court determines the petitioning party does not have a need for support, the analysis ends there. However, if the court determines the petitioning party does have a need for continued support, the court then considers whether or not the other party has the ability to contribute to the petitioning party’s support. If the court determines the one spouse does require support and the other spouse has the ability to help, then the court makes a determination of the kind, amount and the length of time of support necessary for the petitioning spouse.
In making this determination, the court considers several factors including but not limited to the parties’ standard of living, the length of the marriage, the age of the parties, the financial resources of the parties, the parties’ respective contributions to the marriage, the education and work histories of the parties, the abilities of the parties to earn income and other benefits, the net worth of the parties after equitable distribution, the health of the parties, and so on.
If need and ability to pay are determined, under current Florida law, the courts may award a lump sum alimony payment, alimony for a given duration, or lifetime, permanent alimony.
Proposed Changes to Watch
Some proposed changes in alimony have included:
1. Abolishing the court’s authority to award permanent alimony.
2. Changing guidelines for durational alimony. (Currently, the courts may award durational alimony up to the length of the marriage. Proposed changes would encourage the courts to award alimony up to half of the length of the marriage.)
3. Changes in the definitions of length of marriage (For example, currently, a short-term marriage is seven or fewer years. Reformists would increase the benchmark to 11 years. Changes also have been proposed for medium- and long-term marriages.) This would impact the petitioning party’s right to alimony as length of marriage is one of the determining factors of the alimony award.
4. Abolition of presumption of permanent alimony for long-term marriages.
5. Abolition of presumption of any alimony for short-term marriages.
For more details, read the blog we published on January 21, 2014. If you are considering divorce this year and would like to discuss the impact of alimony reform in your particular case, please contact Ambrose Family Law today to schedule a consultation.