The prospect of giving or receiving support to or from an ex-spouse looms large in the minds of divorcing couples. The breadwinner worries about “being taken to the cleaners,” while the spouse whose career took a back seat to raising children is genuinely anxious about being able to make ends meet. It is important to be aware that alimony is not intended to keep someone in a lifestyle that was above the parties’ means, something that is often a bone of contention in a marriage that ends up in divorce court. While the husband in a divorce was traditionally the one who went to work while the wife stayed home with the children, this outdated social norm is beginning to correct itself (although husbands/fathers are still more likely to be the breadwinner in a family).
Alimony is either a large one-time payment or regular (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) payments made from one spouse or former spouse to the other as part of a divorce agreement or final judgment. A few years ago, the law in Florida had a major change in that marriages were categorized in terms of length with regard to what types of alimony would be available. A marriage of under seven years was deemed “short-term,” a marriage of between seven years and under 17 years was deemed to be a mid-range marriage, and a marriage of 17 years or greater was deemed a long-term marriage. In addition, in 2019, new federal legislation deemed alimony non-taxable and non-deductible. For those with children, it should be noted that alimony is treated as “income” to the recipient for purposes of calculating child support. Accordingly, where there are children, alimony must be determined first. There are actually five types of alimony available to those who are divorcing:
- Pendente lite (temporary): during the divorce, a partially, or wholly, dependent spouse might need financial help maintaining his or her lifestyle that was established during the marriage. In these circumstances, temporary alimony is often necessary.
- Bridge-the-gap: this type of alimony is fairly unique to Florida. When someone receives bridge-the-gap alimony, that person is designated as needing some type of monetary support while making the transition from married to single. Bridge-the-gap alimony may not last longer than two years.
- Rehabilitative: this type is often favored by family courts. Rehabilitative alimony is designed to give an ex-spouse compensation while he or she takes steps to become self-sufficient, such as going back to school or receiving workforce training. In order to obtain this type of alimony, the person seeking the award must allege a specific plan of action supported by evidence of ability to actually follow through with the plan. For example, one might have been accepted to a particular degree program that can be completed within three years with an expectation of employment within six months. This type of alimony ceases when the receiving spouse completes the rehabilitative plan.
- Durational: durational alimony has features similar to rehabilitative alimony. The main difference is that durational alimony does not require a plan for self-sufficiency like rehabilitative alimony. Durational alimony cannot last longer than the length of the marriage.
- Permanent: Under the current law in Florida, there is a rebuttable presumption that permanent alimony is appropriate. The presumption can be overcome where the prospective payor shows that the prospective payee is capable of eventually earning income that would support the lifestyle established during the marriage. Permanent alimony can also be awarded to a permanently disabled or elderly spouse unable to earn an income.
Is There an Alimony Calculator in Florida?
Some states have formulas for calculating alimony and child support that must be adhered to rather rigidly. In Florida, there is no such formula that must be followed. However, many lawyers adhere to the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers’ guideline of taking 30% of the payor’s annual gross income minus 20% of the payee’s annual gross income to estimate alimony. The two things Florida courts must consider when determining alimony in a particular case are:
- The petitioning spouse’s need for alimony
- The other spouse’s ability to pay alimony
If it is decided that both of these conditions are met, courts will look at 10 factors in order to come up with an appropriate amount, which are:
- The standard of living during the marriage
- The length of the marriage
- The overall health of each spouse
- The financial resources of each spouse
- The educational level, earning capacity, vocational skills, and employability of each spouse
- Contribution of each spouse to the marriage (homemaking, childcare, career-building, and education)
- Responsibility of each spouse to minor children
- Tax consequences of alimony for either spouse
- All available sources of income for both spouses
- “Any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties”
As stated above, with regard to the first factor, alimony is not intended to keep a spouse above the parties’ means, and this is sometimes an issue that must be placed before the Court with financial evidence of overspending during the intact marriage. The 10th and final factor allows judges a fair amount of flexibility to award alimony as he or she sees fit. Because the outcome for alimony in your case can have many different possibilities, it’s important to have competent legal counsel to represent throughout your divorce. Our firm’s singular focus is having smooth, stress-free divorces for our clients while fighting aggressively for your interests. Interested? Call our firm at (954)-447-2580 to discuss your options in a confidential consultation.