Did you know that, under Florida law, it may be possible to modify or even terminate your alimony payments under certain conditions?
For many Floridians who have experienced divorce, alimony payments are a routine part of life. The court-ordered provision, aimed at providing financial support to the lesser-earning spouse after the dissolution of marriage, can sometimes be a heavy burden. But did you know that, under Florida law, it may be possible to modify or even terminate your alimony payments under certain conditions? This article will explore how the modification of alimony works in Florida and how you could potentially benefit.
Some Alimony Payments Can’t be Changed
Under Florida law, certain alimony payments are considered non-modifiable. Non-modifiable alimony refers to a type of spousal support that cannot be changed or altered by either party. Usually, non-modifiable alimony arises from a marital settlement agreement where one party negotiated for the alimony provision to be non-modifiable. Additionally, ongoing payments that are considered a “property distribution” are non-modifiable. The purpose of non-modifiable alimony is to provide stability and predictability to both parties involved, ensuring that the recipient receives a consistent level of support without the fear of unexpected changes. Generally, alimony can be modified when awarded as part of a contested divorce case that is decided by a judge. Also, alimony is presumed to modifiable unless the marital settlement agreement or final judgment expressly states that it is non-modifiable.
What is Alimony Modification?
Under Florida Statute 61.14, alimony can be modified or terminated upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances or the existence of a supportive relationship. What does that mean exactly? Let’s delve into these two important concepts.
Substantial Change in Circumstances
A “substantial change in circumstances” signifies that something significant in the financial situation of either party has changed since the last order was issued. The change could be either an increase or decrease in the payer’s ability to pay alimony or an increase or decrease in the recipient’s need for alimony.
For the judge to consider a modification, this change in circumstances must be substantial, material, involuntary, and permanent. Transient or temporary financial difficulties or minor changes in income will not suffice. Some examples of substantial changes could include:
- Loss of employment or significant reduction in income
- Serious illness or disability
- Remarriage of the recipient
- Significant increase in the recipient’s income or financial status
Regarding retirement specifically, retirement may be considered a valid, substantial change in circumstances if the retirement is reasonable. What constitutes “reasonable retirement” is determined on a case-by-case basis and often considers factors such as age, health, and the norm in the payer’s line of work.
The burden of proof falls on the party seeking alimony modification. They must demonstrate that the change is not temporary and wasn’t anticipated at the time of the final judgment of dissolution. It is not uncommon for these cases to involve detailed financial investigations.
Under Florida Statute 61.14, if the party receiving alimony enters into a supportive relationship, the payer might be able to reduce or eliminate alimony payments. A supportive relationship generally refers to a situation where the alimony recipient lives with someone who provides them with financial assistance, effectively reducing their need for alimony. Even if the party receiving alimony enters into a supportive relationship, however, the Judge is not required to modify or terminate the alimony payments if party receiving alimony still has a financial need for it.
The statute specifies numerous factors the judge will consider in determining whether a supportive relationship exists, including but are not limited to:
- The extent to which the obligee and the other person have held themselves out as a married couple by engaging in conduct such as using the same last name, using a common mailing address, referring to each other as “my husband” or “my wife,” or otherwise conducting themselves in a manner that evidences a permanent supportive relationship.
- The period of time that the obligee has resided with the other person in a permanent place of abode.
- The extent to which the obligee and the other person have pooled their assets or income or otherwise exhibited financial interdependence.
- The extent to which the obligee or the other person has supported the other, in whole or in part.
- The extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other.
- The extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other’s company or employer.
- Whether the obligee and the other person have worked together to create or enhance anything of value.
- Whether the obligee and the other person have jointly contributed to the purchase of any real or personal property.
- Evidence in support of a claim that the obligee and the other person have an express agreement regarding property sharing or support.
- Evidence in support of a claim that the obligee and the other person have an implied agreement regarding property sharing or support.
- Whether the obligee and the other person have provided support to the children of one another, regardless of any legal duty to do so.
This list is not exhaustive, and the judge can consider any other factor it deems relevant to determine whether a supportive relationship exists. The existence of a supportive relationship is a fact-specific inquiry, and is often a complex issue requiring the expertise of a family law attorney.
Understanding the Judge’s Consideration
After the judge has determined that there has been a substantial change in circumstances or that the party receiving alimony is in a supportive relationship, then the judge must decide whether the alimony should be modified or terminated. In doing so, the judge considers a variety of factors pursuant to Florida Statute 61.08 including the following:
- 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 non-marital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.
- 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 judge will balance these factors to make a fair and equitable decision. Importantly, Florida’s public policy on alimony seeks to balance financial disparities, recognize both economic and non-economic contributions to the marriage, and promote financial independence for both parties after the dissolution of the marriage. It’s a complex area of law that is intended to reflect the fairness and equitable distribution of financial responsibilities and assets after a divorce.
Retroactive Effect of the Modification or Termination
The Florida Statutes Section 61.14 specifically provides that a modification or termination of alimony can be retroactive to the date of the filing of the action for modification or termination. In practical terms, this means that if you file a request to modify or terminate your alimony payments, any approved changes could apply back to the date you filed the request, not the date when the judge eventually grants it.
Here’s an example to illustrate: let’s say you file a petition to reduce your alimony payments on May 1 due to a substantial change in circumstances. The judge doesn’t grant your request until August 1. The reduction in your alimony payments can be applied retroactively to May 1, which means you may be entitled to a refund for overpayments made between May and August.
It’s important to note that the retroactivity of an alimony modification is not automatic and will depend on the judge’s discretion and specific circumstances of the case. If you believe a retroactive modification of alimony might apply to you, it is crucial to consult with an experienced family law attorney to understand the complexities of your situation. It’s also worth mentioning that the rules surrounding alimony are subject to change, and it’s crucial to keep abreast of current law.
Remember that timing is key in this process. If you’re experiencing a substantial change in circumstances or if there’s a supportive relationship that might justify modifying or terminating your alimony obligation, taking prompt action is critical. By filing your petition sooner rather than later, you might potentially benefit from a retroactive adjustment if the judge ultimately agrees with your request.
Changes on the Horizon
In recent years, Florida has seen several legislative attempts to reform alimony laws, but none have been successful in becoming law. You should consult with a local family law attorney for the most current information.
These attempted reforms generally have sought to eliminate permanent alimony, establish a formula for determining alimony amounts based on the length of the marriage and the parties’ incomes, and make it easier to modify or terminate alimony based on changes in circumstances, such as the payer’s retirement or the recipient’s cohabitation with a new partner.
Opponents of alimony reform have expressed concern that the new laws would apply retroactively and could result in unfair financial consequences for individuals who had finalized their divorces under the existing alimony laws. The debate around alimony reform in Florida continues, with proponents arguing for greater predictability and fairness, and opponents cautioning against one-size-fits-all solutions that might not account for the unique circumstances of each divorce case. There is currently new legislation introduced, which could alter the existing framework for determining and modifying alimony. For more information regarding the current legislation—SB 1416, check out the Florida Bar’s article: Revamped Alimony Bill Gets The Green Light From Senate Committee.
Finding an Attorney to Assist You
While Florida state statutes provide the general framework for alimony, including modifications, the interpretation and application of these laws can vary somewhat between different appellate districts within the state. This is because each district has its own appellate court, and these courts may interpret the law differently in their rulings. These district courts of appeal issue decisions that constitute binding precedent within their specific jurisdiction, meaning lower courts within the same district must follow these decisions. However, the rulings of one district court of appeal do not necessarily constitute binding precedent in another district.
In the context of modifying alimony, this could mean differing interpretations of what constitutes a “substantial change in circumstances,” or varying standards for what qualifies as a “supportive relationship” that might warrant a reduction or termination of alimony. These district-based nuances make it crucial to have legal representation familiar not only with Florida’s state statutes, but also with the local appellate decisions that might impact the outcome of your case. In other words, the interpretation and application of Florida law on alimony modification can differ depending on where within the state your case is being heard.
In summary, while the core principles guiding alimony modification in Florida stem from state law, nuanced differences in interpretation between districts mean the application of those principles may vary. Understanding these differences is essential when seeking legal advice and planning your legal strategy.
Alimony modification is a complex area of Florida law and the expertise of an experienced family law attorney is often required to navigate the litigation process, collect evidence, and present the case to the judge.
If you would like to discuss your individual circumstances, you can contact Pinellas Family Lawyer for a free, 30-minute phone consultation.
This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The content provided here is based on general knowledge and understanding, and laws can vary significantly depending on your individual circumstances. Therefore, it is important that you consult with a qualified attorney to obtain personalized advice tailored to your specific situation. Legal matters are complex, and relying solely on the information provided in this blog post may not be appropriate or sufficient to address your legal needs. An attorney can evaluate your case, consider relevant laws and regulations, and provide guidance based on their expertise and experience. Remember, seeking professional legal counsel is essential to ensure that you receive accurate and up-to-date advice that is applicable to your unique circumstances.