Marital Law Update: What You Need to Know About Alimony

Jodi F. ColtonJodi Furr Colton, Esq., is a member of Brinkley Morgan’s marital and family law practice with special emphasis on dissolution of marriage, alimony, child custody and visitation, equitable distribution, and other family law matters. In this blog post, Jodi explains the basics of alimony and which types of alimony apply in different divorce situations.

One of the first questions new clients typically ask divorce lawyers is, “How much alimony will I get?” or conversely, “How much alimony am I going to have to pay?” The spouse seeking alimony often assumes it is a foregone conclusion that he or she will receive years of support from their soon-to-be ex. The reality, however, is that alimony is not awarded in every divorce case and is by no means guaranteed.

Who is eligible for alimony?

Before addressing the question of how much, Florida law requires the judge to determine that the person seeking alimony has an “actual need” for financial support and whether the other spouse has the ability to pay alimony. After both those criteria are satisfied, the judge then considers a long list of factors to determine the type and amount of alimony that is appropriate under the circumstances. These factors include the following:

  • standard of living established during the marriage
  • duration of the marriage
  • age, physical and emotional condition of each party
  • financial resources of each party
  • earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties and, when applicable, time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training necessary to find appropriate employment.
  • contribution of each party to the marriage, including, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party
  • responsibilities each party will have with regard to minor children they have in common
  • tax treatment and consequences to both parties of an alimony award
  • all sources of income available to either party
  • any other factor relevant to the equity and justice between the parties.

Who qualifies for permanent alimony?

Florida Statute 61.08 identifies four different types of alimony that a court may award. Permanent alimony, which is what most people think of when they think of alimony, is intended to provide for the “needs and necessities of life” as they were established during the marriage for a party who lacks the financial ability to meet his or her own needs following a divorce. It is generally awarded only in long-term marriages (17 years or more), but may also be awarded in moderate term marriages, referred to as “gray area” marriages, (longer than seven years and less than 17 years), if it is appropriate based on consideration of the factors listed above.

Under exceptional circumstances, such as if a spouse is permanently disabled, he or she may be awarded permanent alimony in a short-term marriage (less than seven years), but that is very rare.  Permanent alimony terminates upon death of either party or remarriage of the recipient. It also can be terminated or modified if the recipient remains unmarried but is in a relationship and being supported financially by a new partner, which is known as a “supportive relationship” under Florida law.

What is durational alimony?

As of July 1, 2010, the alimony statute was changed to include a new type of alimony called durational alimony, which may be awarded when permanent alimony is inappropriate. The purpose is to provide a spouse with economic assistance for a set period of time following a moderate or short-term marriage.  Unlike permanent alimony, the length of an award of durational alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage itself. Durational alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon remarriage, and while the amount may be modified by the court if there is a substantial change in the circumstances of the parties, the duration of the payments may not be modified except under “exceptional circumstances.”

Who qualifies for bridge-the-gap alimony?

Bridge-the-gap alimony, as its name implies, is intended to assist a spouse in making the transition from being married to being single. The law was recently amended to specify that bridge-the-gap alimony can last no more than two years.  Once awarded, it cannot be modified by the court.

When is rehabilitative alimony appropriate?

Rehabilitative alimony is intended to assist one spouse in establishing the capacity of self-support through training, education or work experience to develop or redevelop the skills and credentials needed to find employment. It may be ordered in a marriage of any length, although is less likely in a long-term marriage where a spouse with the need for support is usually entitled to permanent alimony. The recipient is required to follow a specific and defined rehabilitative plan in order to continue receiving the payments.  This type of alimony usually lasts only a short period of time and terminates upon completion of or noncompliance with the rehabilitative plan. The court can modify the amount or duration if there is a substantial change in circumstances.

What does it all really mean?

If you have been married for 17 years or more and one spouse has primarily stayed home to raise children, care for the house, or support the career of the primary earner, you can expect to receive or pay permanent alimony. If you have been married less than seven years, even if one spouse has been out of the workforce for almost the entire marriage, alimony will likely last only a few years, if it is awarded at all.

Remember that once you are getting divorced, all bets are off.  The fact that you and your spouse agreed that one of you would stay home and raise the kids while the other worked is no longer relevant. You also agreed to be married forever; and once that deal is off, so are your previous assumptions.

For more information, contact Jodi Furr Colton, Esq. at (954) 522-2200 or jodi.colton@brinkleymorgan.com.

The material appearing in this article is meant to provide general information only and is not a substitute for legal advice. With regard to specific law issues, readers of this article should seek specific advice from legal counsel of their choice.  This article may not be reprinted without the express permission of Brinkley Morgan.

By |2017-03-13T13:31:17+00:00June 16th, 2011|Blog, Marital & Family Law|