The first thing one should know about alimony in Florida is that there is no mathematical calculation in determining alimony such as there is with calculating child support.
The court has broad discretion to decide (1) entitlement to alimony, (2) the amount of alimony, (3) the duration of alimony, and (4) the type of alimony. There are, however, perimeters to which the court is bound.
Entitlement to Alimony
The overriding legislative intent in establishing alimony law is that the State of Florida does not want to support an impecunious spouse by way of welfare, food stamps, and the like. Therefore, courts will look to the breadwinning spouse to ensure that the other spouse does not go homeless or without basic living necessities.
What this has translated to by way of laws and judicial interpretation is that there are two spouses who enjoyed a certain standard of living throughout the marriage, and, upon dissolution of that marriage, both spouses should continue to enjoy that same standard of living.
To the extent that one spouse cannot afford that established standard of living with his or her own income, the other spouse must provide supplemental income. Of course, what usually occurs upon dissolution of marriage is that the standard of living enjoyed by two people in the same household will go down when there are two households to maintain.
In determining whether to award alimony in Florida, the court will first make a determination as to need and ability to pay and then the court shall consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to:
• 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 marital assets and liabilities distributed to each;
• The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties;
• The contribution of each party to the marriage, including 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; and
• All sources of income available to either party.
Amount of Alimony
The primary factors the court must in determining the amount of alimony are need of the payee spouse and ability to pay of the paying spouse. The court may impute income to a spouse who is earning less than the spouse is capable of earning through his or her best efforts.
To impute income means that the court will pretend that the spouse is earning a certain amount of income for purposes of calculating amount of alimony needed or amount the paying spouse is able to pay.
Duration of Alimony in Florida
There is a rebuttable presumption against an award of permanent alimony in a short-term marriage, which is 7 years or shorter. There is a rebuttable presumption for an award of permanent alimony in a long-term marriage, which is 17 years or longer. There is no presumption for or against permanent alimony in a moderate-term marriage, which is a marriage greater than 7 years but less than 17 years. The type of alimony generally dictates the duration.
Types of Alimony in Florida
• Permanent: Permanent alimony is alimony for support until the remarriage of the payee spouse or the death of either party. Permanent alimony is always modifiable with a showing of a substantial change in circumstances.
• Rehabilitative: Rehabilitative alimony is intended to provide assistance to a spouse while he or she regains the ability or establishes the capacity for self support. The party seeking rehabilitative alimony for retraining has the burden of proof as to the retraining plan, the object of rehabilitation, the cost of the plan, the period necessary to complete the plan, and how the plan is workable to make the party self supporting.
• Bridge-the-Gap: Bridge-the-Gap alimony is an award for a specific short duration to assist the spouse with the transition from married life to single life and is designed to assist a party with legitimate identifiable short-term needs. The length of the award may not exceed 2 years. The award of this type of alimony is non-modifiable.
• Lump-Sum: Lump-Sum alimony is a certain sum paid at one time or installments and the court will order this type of alimony only when an award of permanent alimony is justified and the court finds special circumstances warranting a lump-sum payment such as if the paying spouse is in poor health.
• Durational: Newly created, durational alimony is to provide a payee spouse with economic assistance for a set period of time following a marriage of short or moderate duration. An award of durational alimony terminates upon the death of either spouse or upon the remarriage of the payee spouse. Durational alimony is modifiable with a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. However, the length of an award of durational alimony may not be modified except under exceptional circumstances and may not exceed the length of the marriage.
• Nominal: Nominal alimony may be awarded in cases in which the court finds entitlement to alimony, but due to insufficient resources available at the time of trial, the court cannot award sufficient alimony to meet the needs of the payee spouse. The nominal alimony award reserves jurisdiction for the court to later modify the amount of alimony.
Subsequent to an award of permanent alimony, the court may terminate or modify that award if it finds that the payee spouse is in a supportive relationship. There are several factors the court must consider before finding a supportive relationship exists, but a supportive relationship is essentially a relationship akin to a marriage and one based on financial support.
Alimony may be taxable to the payee spouse and deductible by the paying spouse. Retroactive alimony may be awarded back to the date of filing the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
The court may order the paying to maintain a life insurance policy as security for an alimony obligation. Alimony will be considered as the payee’s income for purposes of calculating child support.
Finally, in determining a proper award of alimony, the court must consider any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.