In Florida, there are many factors involved in determining alimony payments – including the length of the marriage. Despite what many people think, courts don’t simply look at the spouses’ finances when making this type of decision. The length of your marriage can have a substantial effect on both the size of the payments, and the duration of the payments (that is, how long they last.)
The Basics of Alimony
While it is common for Florida courts to assign alimony in divorce proceedings, it is not a guarantee. Courts assign alimony if they determine that one of the spouses will need assistance to continue enjoying the same standard of living that they had during their marriage, and they determine that the other spouse is capable of paying this assistance.
Also, alimony is not always intended to be permanent. Florida’s alimony statute recognizes four different types of alimony. These are:
- Bridge-the-gap alimony, in which one party temporarily provides support to the other party with certain short-term needs to help them make a transition from being married to being single. This type of alimony cannot last longer than two years, and it cannot be modified. It can terminate earlier than anticipated if one of the parties dies, or if the party receiving the alimony is remarried.
- Rehabilitative alimony, in which one party provides support to the other party in order to help him or her become self-supporting (either by redeveloping previous skills or credentials, or acquiring education, training or work experience). This type of alimony can only be awarded if there is a specific, defined rehabilitative plan. It can only be modified or terminated if the plan is completed, or if the party receiving alimony fails to comply with the plan, or if there is a substantial change in circumstances.
- Durational alimony, in which one party provides economic assistance to the other party for a set period of time. This length may not be modified except under exceptional circumstances, and it will terminate earlier than anticipated if one of the parties dies, or the party receiving alimony is remarried.
- Permanent alimony, in which one party provides the other’s needs and necessities as they were established during the marriage. Permanent alimony will continue until one of the spouses dies, or the party receiving alimony is remarried. The length can only be modified if there is a substantial change of circumstances, or if the party receiving alimony is being supported by a new partner. Courts will only assign permanent alimony if they find that no other form of alimony would be fair and reasonable.
How Does the Length of the Marriage Fit In?
There are several different ways in which the length of the marriage can have an effect on alimony.
Florida’s alimony statute has certain requirements related to marriage length. One of these requirements is that the length of durational alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage. A Florida court recently issued an opinion stating that this is a hard and fast rule, and that it cannot be waived even under extraordinary circumstances. (The decision also held that if a couple remarries after a divorce, and then gets divorced again, the length of the first marriage does not factor into durational alimony.)
The statute also divides marriages into three categories for length – short marriages, which generally are marriages that lasted less than 7 years, moderate-term marriages, which generally are marriages that lasted 7 to 17 years, and long-term marriages, which generally are marriages that have lasted 17 years or longer.
These categories can determine which type of alimony a court decides on. After a short marriage, permanent alimony can only be awarded if there is a written finding that there are exceptional circumstances requiring permanent alimony.
However, permanent alimony can be awarded after a moderate-term marriage if the court finds that there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the award is appropriate. Providing clear and convincing evidence is easier than proving exceptional circumstances.
After a long-term marriage, a court need only find that permanent alimony is appropriate. This is the easiest standard of the three – there does not need to be clear and convincing evidence.
How Does a Court Determine What is Appropriate?
Florida’s alimony statute requires courts to look at all relevant factors when deciding whether alimony is appropriate – and when determining the size and type of alimony payments. The statute contains a list of relevant factors, which includes:
a) The standard of living established during the marriage.
b) The duration of the marriage.
c) The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party.
d) The financial resources of each party, including nonmarital and marital assets and liabilities.
e) The earning capacities, education levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties and, when applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to find appropriate employment.
f) 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.
g) The responsibilities each party will have with regard to any minor children they have common.
h) 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.
i) All sources of income available to either party, including income available to either party through investments of any asset held by that party.
j) Any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.
As you can see, decisions regarding alimony can be quite complicated, and involve a large number of factors. If you are seeking to have an alimony award modified, or you are filing for divorce and you have concerns about alimony, a qualified lawyer can answer your questions, and help prepare you for what is to come.