Purpose of Alimony
Florida law allows for several types of alimony, whether it be permanent alimony, rehabilitative alimony or bridge-the-gap alimony, among others. Regardless of the type, all alimony is intended to provide support for a spouse as a result of a divorce. Alimony preserves the economic status spouses enjoyed while married. Alimony is also intended to reduce the harm to spouses and children that may resolve from a divorce proceeding. Courts have several ways to accomplish this goal, whether it be through periodic alimony payments or payment of a lump sum amount.
Determining Whether Alimony is Appropriate
A court can award alimony on a temporary basis, during the course of a divorce proceeding, as well as on a permanent basis as part of a settlement or final judgment entered by the court. Florida courts are also empowered to enter an award granting or modifying alimony after a judgment granting divorce has been entered (i.e. on a post-dissolution basis). However, before a court can award alimony in any of these circumstances it must do two things: determine whether the requesting spouse has a need for alimony and decide whether the paying spouse has the ability to pay for alimony.
Factors Courts Consider in Deciding to Award Alimony
Under Florida’s alimony statute, Fla. Stat. § 61.08, once a court determines that the requesting spouse has a need for alimony and the paying spouse has the ability to pay, the trial court is required to consider “all relevant factors” before deciding whether to award alimony, and in what amount. These relevant factors include such things as the couple’s standard of living, the length of time the parties were married, the age and physical and emotional condition of each spouse, the parties’ financial resources, as well as the educational levels and earning capacities of each spouse. When considering the standard of living of the parties, the court usually relies on the standard of living the couple last shared before filing for divorce.
In addition to these factors, the court must also consider the contribution each spouse made to the marriage. Here, the court is required to give consideration to whether one spouse served as a homemaker, cared for the couple’s children or assisted with the education and “career building” of the other spouse. It is not uncommon in a marriage for one spouse to stay at home and take care of the household, including caring for the children, while another spouse improves his or her education and professional standing. Under Florida law, a court must take in to consideration the contributions of the stay at home spouse when awarding alimony.
Different Types of Alimony
Permanent alimony is a continuous allotment of payments to a spouse for regular support year to year. This form of alimony is not intended to make both spouses financially equal, but instead provide an appropriate level of support for a spouse based on need, an ability to pay and other relevant factors such as standard of living, duration of the marriage, etc.. In deciding whether to award permanent alimony, courts look to the length of the marriage. Marriages for seven years or less are considered short term marriages, while marriages between seven and fourteen years are considered moderate term. Marriages lasting fourteen years or longer are considered long term marriages.
A spouse seeking a divorce from a long term marriage has a presumption in favor of receiving permanent alimony. In contrast, a spouse in a short term marriage has a presumption against receiving permanent alimony. Those marriages of a moderate duration, lasting between seven and fourteen years, have no presumption for or against permanent alimony.
Bridge-the-gap alimony may be awarded to provide support for a spouse who is transitioning from being married to being single. Bridge-the-gap alimony cannot last more than two years. This type of alimony terminates when the party receiving alimony re-marries. Neither the amount or the length of time for bridge-the-gap alimony may be later modified.
Rehabilitative alimony, unlike bridge-the-gap alimony, may be modified or terminated when there has been a substantial change in circumstances that underlies the initial award of alimony. Rehabilitative alimony is intended to provide the requesting spouse with funds to establish the capacity for self-support, either through redeveloping previous skills or undergoing training or education need to develop new skills. Courts generally grant rehabilitative alimony for a certain period of time or until a specific educational or vocational goal has been met.
Durational alimony is intended to provide a spouse with economic assistance following a short or moderate term marriage. This type of alimony is appropriate when there is no need for permanent alimony. Durational alimony may not last longer than the length of the parties’ original marriage. Like with other forms of alimony, durational alimony may be modified or terminated due to a substantial change in circumstances. The length of the award for durational alimony is not modifiable absent a showing of exceptional circumstances.
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