How Alimony is Determined or Calculated in Florida
The most important factor for alimony is how long you were married. As the length of the marriage increases, alimony is more likely. But all of the other factors must also support an alimony judgment. The time is counted from your marriage date until the date of the divorce petition.
Probability you will pay or receive alimony – by number of years married
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Alimony is a frequent feature of Florida divorces. Alimony – sometimes referred to as spousal support – is a payment of money from one spouse meant to provide financial support to the other spouse during the pendency of a divorce proceeding or for some period of time after a divorce is finalized. The purpose behind alimony is to allow the lower-earning spouse in a divorcing couple to maintain a standard of living that he or she was accustomed to during the marriage, at least for a period of time.
Unlike child support orders, which are calculated based on instructions found in the Florida statutes and which do not allow for the court to exercise much discretion in setting them, courts have some latitude in setting an alimony order. Understanding the types and purposes of alimony, as well as the factors a court considers when deciding whether to award alimony and in what amount, can help you anticipate whether alimony will be a factor in your case.
Purpose of Alimony
As mentioned above, the underlying purpose of alimony is to allow divorcing spouses to maintain a standard of living that is similar to the standard of living they were accustomed to during the marriage, at least until the spouses have an opportunity to reestablish themselves. Alimony is not meant to punish one spouse or reward the other, nor is it meant to enrich one spouse at the expense of the other. For this reason, except in extremely rare circumstances, courts will not enter an alimony award for an amount that causes the receiving spouse to have total income greater than the paying spouse. For instance, if Louis makes $3,000.00 per month and Anna makes only $2,000.00, it is unlikely that Louis will be ordered to pay significantly more than $500.00 per month in alimony.
Types of Alimony Available
Florida law enables the court to award different types of alimony. The decision of what type of alimony to award, if any, rests in the discretion of the court and what it believes to be fair under the circumstances. A court is not limited to awarding just one type of alimony; if it feels it is appropriate, it may award more than one type of alimony.
The different types of alimony available include:
- Temporary Alimony: This type of alimony is awarded in cases where one spouse requires financial support while the divorce is pending. Once the divorce is finalized, temporary alimony automatically ends. For instance, if Louis and Anna are divorcing, and Anna needs assistance relocating away from Louis, she may ask the court to provide her with temporary alimony to assist her in starting over in a new location.
- Bridge-the-Gap Alimony: Bridge-the-gap alimony is temporary in nature and is meant to last no more than two years. This sort of alimony begins once the divorce is finalized and provides one spouse with temporary living expenses to meet his or her short-term needs. Bridge-the-gap alimony may be awarded, for instance, where one spouse needs to complete a job training class or is waiting for a house to sell before moving. This type of alimony is not modifiable once it has been entered.
- Rehabilitative Alimony: This type of alimony allows a spouse to acquire training or education necessary to obtain employment following a divorce. Before a court will award rehabilitative alimony, the spouse requesting this type of alimony must submit a plan that outlines the money and time necessary to complete the plan.
- Durational Alimony: If one spouse requires ongoing assistance in meeting his or her living expenses for a number of years, the court may consider awarding durational alimony. Durational alimony can be awarded for a period of time, up to the length of the marriage. For instance, if Louis and Anna were married for five years, the court could award a party up to five years of durational alimony. If they were married for fifteen years, the durational alimony could be awarded for up to fifteen years.
- Permanent Alimony: Like its name implies, permanent alimony is support that is awarded after a divorce and that is designed to last until it is either modified or terminated by the court. Otherwise, the alimony order will remain and the obligor spouse will need to continue to pay it. This type of alimony is designed to assist one spouse with his or her living expenses when it does not appear that that spouse’s financial situation is not likely to improve. For instance, permanent alimony might be appropriate if Anna has a permanent disability and is unable to work. Because of the unique nature of permanent alimony, a court that awards permanent alimony must state in writing the reasons why it felt awarding permanent alimony was fair and reasonable, as opposed to awarding other forms of alimony.
There are certain presumptions regarding the length of the marriage and the eligibility for permanent alimony. If the marriage lasted at least 17 years, permanent alimony can be awarded if it is appropriate in light of certain factors (discussed below). For a marriage between 7 and 17 years, permanent alimony can be awarded if there is clear and convincing evidence that such an award is appropriate. For a marriage of less than 7 years, permanent alimony will be awarded only in exceptional circumstances.
Factors Affecting Alimony Awards
Before a court can award any type of alimony, a court must not only determine that there is a need for alimony, but also that the spouse from whom alimony is sought has an ability to pay the proposed alimony. If the court does not find the receiving spouse has a need for alimony, then the court will not likely award alimony even if the other spouse has the ability to pay alimony. Similarly, if the court finds that the paying spouse is not able to pay an alimony award, then no alimony award will be entered even if the other spouse could use financial support.
Once the court has determined that there is both a need for alimony and the paying spouse has the ability to pay alimony, the court will then consider “relevant factors” in deciding what type of alimony to award and how long to award such alimony. These factors may include:
- Financial Resources of Receiving Spouse: The court may consider the financial situation and resources of the spouse asking for alimony. This would include not only the requesting spouse’s income, but any separate property he or she has (property he or she acquired before the marriage, for instance) and any property he or she is awarded by the court during the division of the marital property.
- Receiving Spouse’s Income Sources: All sources of income for the receiving spouse will be considered, including wages, salaries, and investment income, for example.
- Each Spouse’s Earning Capacity, Educational History, Vocational Skills, and Employability: For instance, if one spouse did not advance in his or her career or did not go to college in order to stay home and raise the children, this will be taken into consideration in determining whether that spouse has a need for alimony.
- Any Time and Expense Required by the Requesting Spouse for Education or Training: If one spouse proposes to get education or training in order to obtain a job to provide for him- or herself, he or she will need to detail how much money and time such an endeavor would take.
- The Marital Standard of Living: Since alimony is meant to ensure each of the spouses enjoy a standard of living that is comparable to the standard of living they enjoyed as a couple, it makes senses that a court will investigate what that marital standard of living was before ordering any alimony.
- The Length of the Marriage: This is an important consideration because durational alimony cannot be ordered for a period of time that is longer than the length of the marriage.
- The Age and Physical and Emotional Condition of the Spouses: If a spouse has physical or emotional needs that require treatment, the court can consider these expenses in determining whether alimony is appropriate.
- Each Spouse’s Contribution to the Marriage: In determining what is fair and reasonable, the court will not only consider the income each spouse brought to the marriage but also activities such as child rearing, home education, and homemaking.
- Tax Consequences: A court can consider how a particular award will be treated by federal and state governments for taxation purposes in determining whether to award any alimony and in what amount.
- Child Support Responsibilities: In determining the need for alimony, a court can consider what obligations, if any, each spouse has toward any children they have in common.
- Adultery: A court can consider the nature of any adulterous relationship involving either spouse in awarding and setting alimony. Courts will be most interested in such a relationship if it harmed the other spouse financially, such as when one spouse uses marital funds or assets to give his or her partner lavish gifts.
- Supportive Relationships: If the receiving spouse remarries or enters into a “supportive relationship,” an alimony award may be denied, reduced, or terminated. A “supportive relationship” is one in which two unrelated individuals live together and support one another financially or otherwise. For example, if Louis and Anna divorce and Anna moves in with her new boyfriend (who helps contribute to Anna’s rent and utilities), the court may consider this support she receives in determining whether alimony is appropriate and, if so, in what amount.
Tax Consequences of Alimony
Generally speaking, the tax consequences of alimony depends on whether the support is paid periodically (i.e., monthly payments) or in one lump-sum payment. Alimony paid on a periodic basis is usually counted as taxable income to the receiving spouse and is tax deductible for the obligor spouse. Conversely, lump-sum alimony payments (which, as the name implies, are made in a single payment) are typically viewed as distributions of property and are typically not tax deductible by the obligor spouse nor are they treated as income to the receiving spouse.
Alimony and Child Support
If the court feels it is appropriate, it may order one spouse to pay alimony as well as child support. Although each form of support is typically paid directly to the other spouse, the two forms of support are meant to address different needs. Child support is designed to address the costs of raising a child (such as food and clothing), while alimony is designed to allow the receiving spouse to enjoy a standard of living similar to the marital standard of living he or she enjoyed during the marriage.
In the case of both child support and alimony, other support orders may impact the amount the court enters. For instance, in the case of a child support order, the statute allows for consideration of alimony ordered by the court. Similarly, in the case of alimony, the court is permitted to consider any child support ordered by the court in determining what amount is fair and reasonable.
Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney
You can benefit from the assistance of our experienced alimony attorneys whether you are seeking alimony or whether your ex-spouse has requested that you pay alimony. If you are in need of alimony, an we can review the facts of your case and discuss with you how best to present your situation to the court. Especially if you are asking for rehabilitative alimony, our legal team can assist you in preparing the proper documents to present your request to the court. Our consultations are free and we look forward to fighting for your rights.
If your ex-spouse has asked the court to order you to pay alimony, it is important to discuss the case with an attorney as well. An attorney can assist you in presenting the facts of your situation as well as gathering evidence about your ex-spouse’s situation. Since alimony is based both on need and ability to pay, your attorney can ensure that the court considers facts related to both of these factors.