Understanding the Court’s Analysis in Making an Alimony Determination in a Dissolution of Marriage Action Under Florida Law
Am I entitled to alimony? Will I need to pay alimony? These are common questions raised in a dissolution of marriage proceeding. Below is a summary of the Court’s analysis in making an alimony determination.
In general, alimony is limited to a divorce. As such, alimony is not permissible in a paternity or other related matter where the parties are not legally married. In a divorce proceeding, there are several types of alimony the court may grant to either party, which are as follows:
- Permanent in nature, or
- Any combination of these forms of alimony.
In determining whether to award alimony, the Court first must make a specific factual determination as to whether either party has an actual need for alimony and whether either party has the ability to pay alimony. Both must exist for there to be an entitlement to and an award of alimony.
If the Court finds that a party has a need for alimony and that the other party has the ability to pay alimony, then the Court must determine the proper type and amount of alimony. In making this determination, the Court must 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 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.
The type of alimony the Court may consider is dependent upon, among other factors, the length of marriage. 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. There is a rebuttable presumption that a short-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of less than 7 years, a moderate-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of greater than 7 years but less than 17 years, and long-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of 17 years or greater.
Bridge-the-gap alimony may be awarded to assist a party by providing support to allow the party to make a transition from being married to being single. 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. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony shall not be modifiable in amount or duration.
Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to assist a party in establishing the capacity for self-support through either:
- The redevelopment of previous skills or credentials; or
- The acquisition of education, training, or work experience necessary to develop appropriate employment skills or credentials.
In order to award rehabilitative alimony, there must be a specific and defined rehabilitative plan. Unlike bridge-the-gap alimony, an award of rehabilitative alimony may be modified or terminated in accordance with Florida law 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 or following a marriage of long duration if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis. The amount of an award of durational alimony may be modified or terminated based upon a substantial change in circumstances, in accordance with Florida law. 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.
Permanent alimony may be awarded to provide for the needs and necessities of life as they were established during the marriage of the parties for a party who lacks the financial ability to meet his or her needs and necessities of life following a divorce. Permanent alimony may be awarded following a marriage of long duration if such an award is appropriate upon consideration of the factors referenced above. It may also be awarded following a marriage of moderate duration if such an award is appropriate based upon clear and convincing evidence after consideration of the of the factors referenced above. Moreover, permanent alimony may be awarded following a marriage of short duration if there are written findings of exceptional circumstances. In awarding permanent alimony, the Court must find that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the circumstances of the parties.
In conclusion, whether a party to a marriage is entitled to receive alimony or will be required to pay alimony is heavily dependent on the facts and circumstances of the parties’ relationship. The law in this area is continuing to evolve and there has been a significant movement to either alter or eliminate permanent alimony in the state of Florida, so the advice of legal counsel is highly recommended.
Jonathan Schiller is a Florida Bar board certified specialist in Marital and Family Law and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. He concentrates 100% of his practice in the area of marital and family law primarily in Broward County, Palm Beach County, and Miami-Dade County.