Unless the parties can agree on the issue of alimony, when alimony is before the Court, there is first a determination on whether there is actually a need for alimony by the requesting spouse and ability to pay such alimony by the other spouse.
To that end, the parties’ financial affidavits become quite important as they are sworn statements made under oath that provide a snapshot of the parties’ current financial situation. The Courts rely on these financial affidavits to determine whether the requesting spouse has a need for alimony and if the other spouse has the ability to pay alimony and, specifically, it is the parties’ incomes and expenses that are evaluated to determine if alimony should be awarded.
Generally, a monthly deficit on the requesting spouse’s financial affidavit is an indication of that spouse’s need for alimony and a surplus on the other spouse’s financial affidavit is an indication of that spouse’s ability to pay alimony. Once the Courts determine how there is a need for alimony and an ability to pay such alimony, the Courts then proceed to evaluate “all relevant factors” to determine the type of alimony to award, the amount of alimony to award as well the duration and frequency of that alimony. See Section 61.08(2), Florida Statutes.
Specifically, the Courts must consider the following factors in fashioning an alimony award:
- The standard of living established during the marriage.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party.
- The financial resources of each party, including the non marital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.
- The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employ ability of the parties and, when applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable such party to find appropriate employment.
- The contribution of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party.
- The responsibilities each party will have with regard to any minor children they have in common.
- The tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award, including the designation of all or a portion of the payment as a nontaxable, nondeductible payment.
- All sources of income available to either party, including income available to either party through investments of any asset held by that party.
- Any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.
See Section 61.08(2)(a)-(j), Florida Statutes.
On the standard of living, though the Courts seek to keep a party at a standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, it is no longer a “super-factor” trumping all other factors in awarding alimony.
As to the duration of the marriage, the length of the marriage has a direct bearing on the type of alimony that a Court may award.
The Florida Statutes define a short-term marriage as a marriage having a duration of less than 7 years, a moderate-term marriage as a marriage having a duration of greater than 7 years but less than 17 years, and long-term marriage as a marriage having a duration of 17 years or greater. The length of a marriage is the period of time from the date of marriage until the date of filing of an action for dissolution of marriage. Section 61.08(4), Florida Statutes.
On the tax treatment, periodic monthly payments are typically taxable to the recipient spouse and tax-deductible to the payor spouse.
It is also important to be aware how the Courts determine an appropriate alimony award after there has been an equitable distribution of the parties’ marital assets and liabilities.
Although Florida is a “non-fault” state, when it comes to alimony, “[t]he court may consider the adultery of either spouse and the circumstances thereof in determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be awarded.” Section 61.08(1), Florida Statutes. Generally, the non-adulterous spouse must show how the adultery was not known or condoned and how it resulted in intentional dissipation of marital assets and, specifically, how it caused financial detriment to the non-adulterous spouse. In other words, for adultery to matter, it must have an economic impact on the marriage.
Now, when fashioning an alimony award, the Courts must ensure that neither spouse passes automatically from misfortune to prosperity or from prosperity to misfortune. Alimony is based on need and is there to provide the necessities of life and so an award of alimony may not include a savings component.
In Florida, there are several types of alimony that a Court may award after considering all the relevant factors (listed above). Specifically, there is bridge-the-gap alimony, rehabilitative alimony, durational alimony and permanent alimony. Alimony can be paid monthly, in a lump-sum or can be a combination of both, such as where there is an up-front lump sum payment with the balance to be paid monthly.
Bridge-the-gap alimony is designed to assist a party with legitimate identifiable short-term needs and the length of an award may not exceed 2 years. Bridge-the-gap alimony is there to allow the party to make a transition from being married to being single and terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony is not modifiable in amount or duration.
Rehabilitative alimony is designed to assist a party in becoming self-sufficient through education. An award of rehabilitative alimony must include a specific and defined rehabilitative plan. An award of rehabilitative alimony may be modified or terminated based upon a substantial change in circumstances, upon noncompliance with the rehabilitative plan or upon completion of the rehabilitative plan.
Durational alimony may be awarded when permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate. The purpose of durational alimony is to provide a party with economic assistance for a set period of time following a marriage of short or moderate duration. Durational alimony may not exceed the length of the marriage and terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. The amount of an award may be modified or terminated based upon a substantial change in circumstances. However, the length of an award of durational alimony may not be modified except under exceptional circumstances.
Permanent alimony may be awarded in long term marriages 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 needs and necessities of life following a dissolution of marriage. In awarding permanent alimony, the court must include a finding that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the circumstances of the parties. An award of permanent alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. An award may be modified or terminated based upon a substantial change in circumstances or upon the existence of a supportive relationship.
There is also temporary alimony that may be awarded during the pendency of the action and may last until the entry of the final judgment of dissolution of marriage.
In sum, Courts have wide discretion in determining whether to award alimony and, if so, the type and amount of alimony to award. No two cases are alike when it comes to alimony awards. When alimony is at issue, the Courts first consider the facts of the case to determine if alimony is in fact needed. If the Courts determine that there is both a need for alimony and ability to pay alimony, the Courts then proceed to apply the facts of the case to the statutory factors to arrive at an alimony award.