How long will I have to pay alimony ?

How much and How long? An initial discussion on Florida Alimony establishment and guidelines.

This article covers the basic concepts for durational, bridge the gap, and permanent alimony. For a discussion on “rehabilitative alimony” see that article here.

Unlike child support, Florida divorce law doesn’t contain specific guidelines for alimony. This creates some confusion and frustration among practitioners and clients. A review of the history of alimony in Florida divorce Courts, as well as comparisons among recent alimony awards can help provide both clients and their attorneys with some realistic expectations and the ability to negotiate effectively.

Due to the historic gender roles relating to employment and earning capacity, Courts in the early United States were faced with the reality that following a divorce, an unsupported ex-Wife and her children were likely to become impoverished, and therefore dependent upon the state in some capacity. It was the Court’s job to prevent the ex-Wife from becoming a public burden by requiring the Husband to continue to support the ex Wife until such time as she remarried or was self-supporting. This concept gave rise to alimony or “spousal support”.

Times have changed; the gender specific language has been removed, meaning that both men and women are able to request, and receive alimony, and the goal is no longer to prevent a burden on the State, but to continue the “standard of living” that was established during the marriage, while taking into account the length of the marriage. i.e. a short term (less than seven year) marriage is unlikely to result in an extended alimony award, while a long term marriage (over 17 years) is likely to result in permanent alimony.

While length of the marriage is perhaps the strongest factor in Florida alimony determinations, we’ll start with an explanation on how Florida divorce Courts establish the “standard of living”. The concept is that in a perfect world, alimony would allow the standard of living for both parties to continue post-divorce so that neither party would experience any change in their lifestyle once the marriage was over.

How much?

Florida Divorce Courts are aware that the parties now have two households operating on what was once a single household budget, so while the goal is to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, the reality is that both parties are going to experience a reduction in lifestyle.

To determine the standard of living, Florida Divorce Courts will consider all relevant evidence. It is common for the party seeking alimony in Florida to present testimony or other evidence about vacations, luxury items purchased and used by the parties, the frequency of travel and dining out, and the type of residence(s) the parties enjoyed during the marriage. Conversely, a spouse arguing against alimony in Florida will be seeking to present an image to the Court of a frugal lifestyle, where the focus was on savings and avoidance of overspending and luxury.

The Florida Divorce Court will listen to the testimony of the parties and any other witnesses, and examine all other evidence presented, and make a decision as to the parties standard of living during the marriage. Once that decision is made, the Court then evaluates how much the requesting party will need to continue that standard of living, and how much the paying party can afford to pay.

The Court will then compare the parties ability to earn income with the need to maintain the standard of living. As a simple example, we can imagine that to continue the standard of living, a Wife requires a monthly income amount of $10,000.00. After an evidentiary hearing, the Wife is found to be capable of earning $4,000.00 per month. Simple arithmetic shows that the Wife has a need of $6,000.00 per month in alimony. However, the Wife’s need alone does not determine the alimony award.

The next factor the Court considers is the Husband’s (or Wife’s depending on the parties respective financial situations) ability to pay. If the Husband’s monthly income is $12,000.00, the Court is not going to Order that he pay 50% (the $6,000.00 mentioned above) of his gross income to the Wife for alimony purposes, and in fact Florida alimony law prevents the receiving party from having a higher income than the paying party as the result of alimony payments barring any exceptional circumstances.

The Florida Divorce Court will balance the needs of the Former Husband and Wife as best it can when determining alimony amounts. While amounts vary across Florida, generally awards approaching 40% of the Husband’s gross monthly income are considered an “abuse of discretion” by the appellate courts, and are sent back to the original trial court for re-evaluation, while amounts near 25% of the Husband’s gross income are more common.

Aside from the basic need and ability to pay, the Court is instructed to consider the following factors:

The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party.

The financial resources of each party, including the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.

The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability 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

How Long?

Florida Statute 61.08 governs the length of Florida alimony awards by first establishing some standard lengths of marriage. Less than 7 years is considered a “short-term” marriage, a marriage from 7 -17 years is considered a “moderate term marriage” and a marriage in excess of 17 years is considered a “long-term” marriage.

The length of the alimony award, or how long alimony will be paid, is directly related to the length of the marriage, with short or moderate term marriages having, as you can expect, short or moderate periods of alimony. It is rare for the alimony award of a short or moderate term marriage to exceed the length of the marriage, and as a result, it is common for marriages in the short or moderate range to resolve with alimony payments of a few years with the specific goal of allowing the receiving spouse to re-establish themselves financially.

As with all Florida Divorce matters, you should consult with an attorney about your cases specific facts prior to making any decisions. If you have questions about your ability to receive, or your exposure for paying alimony, contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys.