There are no easy answers to questions surrounding the divorce process. Many variables can affect how long the process will take, how the process will conclude, and the financial obligations of each spouse after the divorce. One outcome of a divorce settlement might be that one spouse owes alimony, also referred to as spousal support, to the other spouse. If a Florida court determines that alimony is appropriate, there are also many variables that affect how long an alimony obligation will last. A common question many people receiving alimony have is how beginning a new relationship might affect a former spouse’s alimony obligations. To understand the answer to this question, it is important to understand some of the basic information about alimony.
Types of Florida Alimony
Florida alimony is covered by Florida law Chapter VI, Title 61. Several months ago, we wrote on recent changes to Florida alimony law. That article covered the different types of alimony that can be awarded in Florida, which we will briefly recap below:
- Temporary: Alimony that is awarded for the maintenance of one spouse during the divorce proceedings;
- Bridge-the-Gap: Alimony that is awarded after a divorce is finalized for a period of up to two years while certain types of property is sold or the recipient is preparing to reenter the workforce;
- Rehabilitative: Alimony that is awarded to allow the recipient to pursue education or training in order to successfully reenter the workforce based on a cost-analysis plan that is submitted to the court;
- Durational: Alimony that is awarded for a period of time no longer than the length of time spouses were married that is meant to help the recipient meet certain needs if other options to do so are not readily available; or
- Permanent: Alimony awarded if a judge determines that no other form of alimony is appropriate to allow the recipient to be self-sustaining at a standard close to that which was enjoyed during the marriage.
Generally, a person can only be awarded one type of alimony in a divorce with the exception of temporary alimony, which can be combined with a longer term form of alimony once the divorce has been finalized.
Effect of Marriage on Alimony
Perhaps it is easier to begin the discussion of the effect of a new relationship on an alimony obligation by discussing a new marriage. If the spouse receiving alimony remarries, then the spouse that had been paying alimony no longer has an obligation to do so. This general rule is applicable to all forms of Florida alimony, except of course an order for temporary alimony because temporary alimony is only awarded during divorce proceedings and a new marriage during this time would be legally barred from occurring. For a long period of time, short of the death of either the paying or receiving spouse, remarriage was the only way to terminate an alimony obligation unless such obligation had run its course.
Effect of a New Relationship on Alimony
A more difficult question to answer arises when taking into consideration the effect of a new relationship on alimony when that new relationship does not include remarriage. The answer to this question is dependent on the type of relationship the receiving spouse is involved in. Florida law no allows for termination of alimony in cases where a receiving spouse becomes involved in cohabitation or an otherwise “supportive relationship.”
Cohabitation is relatively simply to understand. Cohabitation occurs when people that are romantically involved make the decision to move in together. In doing so, they likely begin sharing financial responsibilities related to their shared residence. However, simple cohabitation is not enough to demonstrate to a Florida court that alimony should be terminated. Instead, a person that has been ordered to pay alimony to another will have to demonstrate to a Florida court that the new relationship qualifies as a supportive relationship. This means you will have to demonstrate that the new relationship dynamics involve mutual support in such a way that alimony should no longer be required for its original intended purpose because another person is now able to provide that means of support.
Burden of Proof
While it is relatively easy to prove the existence of a new legal marriage, it is not so easy to prove that a spouse is in a supportive relationship by virtue of cohabitation with another. Simply telling a court that this is the case will not meet the burden of proof required to terminate an alimony order. In order to determine if cohabitation qualifies as a supportive relationship, a Florida court will look at many factors, including but not limited to the following:
- Pooling of Assets: One of the most common ways a court will determine that a supportive relationship exists is when a couple pools their assets in such a way that their finances are closely intertwined. Examples of this might include sharing a bank account, sharing responsibility for utility bills, sharing the costs of raising one spouse’s child, or paying other bills for each other. These types of actions may indicate to a court that a supportive relationship exists.
- Period of Cohabitation: The amount of time that two people have cohabitated in a relationship may also be an indicator that a supportive relationship exists. A court is more likely to determine the existence of a supportive relationship if a couple has lived together for an extended period of time more than they are if a couple has only lived together for a couple of months.
- Provision of Valuable Services: If one person in a relationship is performing valuable services for the other, this can also be used to demonstrate the existence of a supportive relationship. For instance, if your former spouse that is receiving alimony is also babysitting their new partner’s children on a regular basis, the court might consider this as providing a valuable service to the other person in the new relationship. Another example of a valuable service is performing work-related tasks for the other person in the new relationship’s home-based business, such as bookkeeping.
- How the Relationship is Defined to Others: A court may also look at how a new relationship has been held out to friends and others in the community. If the new relationship is held out to others in a way that resembles marriage, the court may find the existence of a supportive relationship. Examples of couples holding themselves out as married may include using a common mailing address, referring to each other as husband or wife, and/or using the same last name.
If you have been ordered to pay alimony and believe the order to do so should be terminated, it is important to enlist the help of a Florida divorce attorney that has experience handling alimony orders. While Florida alimony laws have evolved to allow for the termination of alimony in more circumstances than previously allowed, it is still a difficult process that requires legal experience to properly and successfully navigate. Contact Scott J. Stadler to schedule a consultation and find out more information about the various aspects of Florida alimony.