Divorce is a challenging and emotionally draining process. One of the most pressing concerns for many individuals is the issue of alimony. Whether you are contemplating divorce or in the midst of one, understanding the intricacies of alimony in Florida is crucial to planning your future.
Alimony, also known as spousal support, can significantly impact your financial well-being, either as the recipient or the paying party. The law in Florida was revised in July of 2023, and it does affect all new cases filed post July 2023 AND all cases that were previously filed but are still pending after July 1, 2023.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. In this guide, we will address the most common questions and concerns related to alimony in Florida, helping you navigate the complex terrain of this important aspect of divorce law.
Schwam-Wilcox & Associates is here to provide guidance, support, and legal advice to individuals facing divorce in Florida. If you have specific questions or need personalized advice, don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation. Our attorneys are ready to assist you in understanding your rights, obligations, and options regarding alimony and other issues that arise in your family law matter.
What qualifies you for alimony?
One of the questions we get in divorce cases is, ‘What qualifies me for alimony?’
Alimony is not automatically granted in every divorce case. It depends on several factors the courts consider when determining whether to award alimony. These factors include:
- Duration of the Marriage: The length of your marriage plays a crucial role in the alimony determination. Florida law recognizes three main categories of marriage duration: short-term (less than ten years), moderate-term (10 to 20 years), and long-term 20 years or more).
- Financial Need: The court assesses each spouse’s financial need and ability to meet their needs independently. If you cannot maintain a standard of living similar to that during the marriage, you may qualify for alimony.
- Financial Ability of the Paying Spouse: The court considers the financial capability of the paying spouse to provide alimony. This includes their income, assets, and potential for future earnings.
- Age and Health of Both Parties: The age and health of both spouses can affect either party’s ability to support themselves financially after divorce and are considered heavily by the court.
- Marital Misconduct: While Florida is a no-fault divorce state, the court may consider instances of marital misconduct when deciding alimony if it directly impacted the finances of the marriage.
- Tax Consequences: The court may consider the tax implications of alimony for both parties.
How new laws affect alimony
There are significant changes to laws concerning divorce and alimony in Florida (including the definitions above).
The new law eliminates the option to award permanent (lifetime) alimony, focusing instead on bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, and durational forms of alimony. There is a maximum duration on rehabilitative alimony, and a minimum duration to receive durational alimony. These restrictions aim to make alimony awards more proportional to the duration of your marriage. Parties can agree to modify the terms of alimony; however, the court is bound by the laws and must make factual findings regarding why a deviation should be awarded.
The law also provides for a procedure for retirement-related modifications of alimony. If you wish to retire, you can apply for a modification of the alimony award, but only six months before your planned retirement.
Overall, these changes directly impact the financial aspects of divorce in Florida, potentially affecting how much alimony you may receive or have to pay. Consult with an experienced divorce attorney at Schwam-Wilcox & Associates to assess your specific circumstances and determine your eligibility for alimony or alimony modifications.
Understanding the four types of alimony
In Florida, there are four main types of alimony, each serving a different purpose and catering to different circumstances. Below are the highlights of each type; however, there are exceptions and other information that is important to know in the statute.
- Temporary Alimony: Temporary alimony is typically awarded during a divorce to assist the lower income-earning spouse with their immediate financial needs. It aims to insure that if the spouses no longer reside together, each spouse has the ability to pay for living expenses during the process.
- Bridge-the-Gap Alimony: It aims to “bridge the gap” between married life and single life for a spouse. It helps a spouse to get back on their feet and it is only paid for a maximum of two (2) years. It is ordered when there are legitimate identifiable short-term needs. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony terminates upon the death of either party, or upon the remarriage of the recipient (obligee).
- Rehabilitative Alimony: Rehabilitative alimony is intended to help a spouse become self-supporting. It is awarded to enable the recipient to acquire education, training, or work experience necessary to secure stable employment. There must be a specific and defined rehabilitative plan included as a part of any order awarding this alimony type. The length of any award of rehabilitative alimony may not exceed five (5) years. Rehabilitative alimony may be modified or terminated if there is a substantial change in circumstances, upon noncompliance with the plan, or upon completion of the plan if the plan is completed prior to the length of the award.
- Durational Alimony: Durational alimony provides financial support for a set period, typically not exceeding the duration of the marriage (see the statute for the formula). It is often awarded in cases where financial assistance is still needed. The law has now provided a specific formula for the length of the award. Durational alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon remarriage of the recipient (obligee). The amount of an award of durational alimony may be modified or terminated based upon substantial change in circumstances, and durational alimony shall not be awarded for any marriage less than 3 years.
Does it matter who files for divorce first?
It generally does not matter who files for divorce first regarding alimony determinations.
Florida follows a no-fault divorce system, meaning that either spouse can file for divorce without needing to prove fault or misconduct on the part of the other spouse.
The court’s primary focus in alimony cases is on the factors mentioned earlier, such as financial need, ability to pay, and the length of the marriage (there are additional factors in the statue once you satisfy the first prong of need and ability to pay). While the spouse who initiates the divorce may have some control over the timing and initial proceedings, it does not provide a significant advantage or disadvantage regarding alimony or any other decisions.
Instead, the court will carefully evaluate the circumstances and merits of each case to make fair and equitable alimony determinations.
How much alimony does a spouse get?
The amount of alimony a spouse may receive or be required to pay in Florida depends on various factors, including those mentioned above. You’ll find that working with an experienced attorney who can advocate for your interests during divorce proceedings is beneficial. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as each case is unique.
Do I lose alimony if I remarry?
In Florida, the general rule is that alimony payments cease when you, the recipient spouse, remarries.
This is because the purpose of alimony is to provide financial support to a spouse who is financially dependent on the paying spouse. When you remarry, the legal assumption is that you have a new source of financial support through your new spouse, and the need for alimony diminishes.
How do I avoid paying alimony?
If you were the breadwinner in your marriage, you might be unwilling to pay alimony. Remember that alimony is not automatically granted in every case. The court considers numerous factors when determining alimony awards, and no foolproof method exists to avoid it entirely.
To minimize the potential for alimony payments, consider options like pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements and engage in fair negotiations for a settlement. The court will factor into an alimony award what the equitable distribution was for the assets and liabilities, to ensure that there is actually a need, before the 2nd prong with all the factors is even considered.
Pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements
Negotiate an equitable settlement
Negotiating an equitable settlement during a divorce involves several key steps and considerations to ensure a fair and balanced agreement for both parties. Here are the common elements and processes involved in achieving such a settlement:
- Understanding Your Financial Situation: Gather all relevant financial documents, including income statements, tax returns, bank statements, and property valuations. Both you and your spouse should have a clear understanding of your financial assets, liabilities, and income.
- Identifying Key Issues: Identify and prioritize the key issues to address in the settlement. Common areas of concern include property division, parental responsibility and child support, and debt allocation. Knowing what’s important to both parties helps focus negotiations.
- Open and Honest Communication: Effective communication between you and your spouse is vital. Share your concerns, needs, and goals openly, and encourage your spouse to do the same. Try to maintain a civil and respectful tone to foster productive discussions.
Consider using alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation or collaborative divorce. These processes involve neutral third parties who help facilitate negotiations, ensuring a balanced and fair outcome.
- Compromise and Flexibility: Be prepared to compromise on certain issues. Negotiating an equitable settlement often requires give-and-take from both sides. Prioritize what matters most to you and be open to finding creative solutions that benefit both parties.
- Legal and Financial Expertise: Seek input from financial experts if necessary. In complex financial situations, consulting with financial planners, accountants, or appraisers can provide valuable insights into asset division and other financial matters. Hire an experienced divorce attorney who can provide legal guidance and represent your interests throughout the negotiation process and assist in hiring a forensic accountant or other expert to be part of the legal team. Your attorney can help you understand your legal rights and obligations and advise you on the best negotiation strategies.
- Drafting the Agreement: Once you and your spouse reach an agreement on all relevant issues, your attorneys will draft a comprehensive settlement agreement. This document should outline all the terms, responsibilities, and rights of both parties and must comply with applicable laws.
- Review and Finalization: Carefully review the settlement agreement with your attorney to ensure it accurately reflects your negotiated terms and protects your interests. Make any necessary revisions before finalizing the agreement.
Negotiating an equitable settlement can be a complex and emotionally charged process. With the right approach, it can lead to a fair and balanced outcome that meets the needs of both parties involved.