Alimony in Your Sarasota Divorce Case

Alimony can be a tough issue to resolve in your Sarasota divorce case.  Why?  Because, there is no set formula for determining alimony in Florida.   Adding to the complexity is the fact that there are four types of Florida alimony: Bridge the Gap; Rehabilitative; Durational; and Permanent.  (Plus temporary alimony).

As a result, the range of possible outcomes in Florida alimony disputes are  much wider than cases where the issues are the division of property or the determination of child support.  As a result, folks tend to fight about alimony, and alimony cases are often the hardest to resolve without going through trial.

6 Rules of Thumb for Thinking About Florida Alimony

My 6 “Rules of Thumb” in Florida alimony cases are:

1.  The starting point for alimony is one spouse’s need, and the other spouse’s ability to pay.  One way the court could make this determination is to compare both parties’ incomes with their expenses.  However, many folks spend close to what they make.  As a result, if the focus were just on a comparison of expense to income, almost no one almost no one would have the ability to pay alimony.

In the trial court’s focus is more on income disparity between the parties, than on the expenses of the person being asked to pay alimony.   The implicit assumption is that the spouse being asked to pay alimony will eventually figure out how to incorporate alimony into his or her monthly budget.  The exception to this rule of thumb is when the spouse being asked to pay alimony has truly extraordinary and unavoidable expenses.  For example, the fact that person being asked to pay alimony might have a big monthly car payment will not likely effect the court’s award of alimony, while  the court likely would consider significant and ongoing medical expenses.

2.  If you are the person who needs alimony, ask yourself whether the other party really has the ability to pay you. People often get divorced because of financial problems, like an unexpected loss of a high paying job.   Sometimes these types of changes are temporary.  Sometimes they are not.  Often by the time divorce is considered, a couple may have been living beyond its means for an extended time – racking up unsustainable debt in the process.  Before you incur even more debt litigating an alimony case, do a “reality check,” and ask yourself whether your spouse can really pay you, based on the way things are now.

3.  The longer the marriage, the greater the potential for a significant award of alimony – both in dollars and duration.  There are also statutory “presumptions” that favor longer term marriages.

4.  The greater the disparity in the spouses’ incomes the greater the potential for an award for alimony.

5.  The “standard of living” established during the marriage is an important statutory factor in awarding alimony.  However, in most cases the court does not attempt to duplicate the prior standing of living for the spouse receiving alimony.  Why? Most couples spend close to their entire incomes on a month to month basis.  So, it is not realistic for either party to expect his or her standard of living to stay the same after the divorce.  (For example, if the combined income of a couple during the marriage is $60,000, then no matter how that $60,000 is split after the divorce, each party’s “share”  is always going to be less than $60,000).    The cases interpreting this factor say that after the divorce one party should not be left in abundance, while the other party is left in poverty.

6.  There are different statutory presumptions in regard to alimony based on how many years you have been married.  The years of marriage are measured from the date of marriage to the date a petition for dissolution of marriage is filed.  Keep in mind these presumptions and plan accordingly.  For example, you will be in a much stronger position in regard to an alimony request if the length of your marriage is over seventeen years.  So, you might want to consider delaying filing for divorce if you were right at that sixteen year/seventeen year dividing point.

Florid Alimony –  What Factors Will the Court Consider in Your Sarasota Divorce Case

Under Florida’s alimony statute, the court first determines whether one spouse has the need for alimony, and  then determines whether the other spouse has the ability to pay alimony.  If the answer to both these questions is “yes,” the court is required to consider the following factors in determining the amount, duration, and “type” of alimony:

(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 the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.

(e) 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.

(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 in 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.

The link to the statute is here:  Section 61.08, Florida Statutes.

Understanding the Different Types of Florida Alimony

Florida’s alimony statute lists four types of alimony:  Bridge the Gap, Rehabilitative, Durational, and Permanent.   The statute can be confusing to read, so I have provided a “big picture” summary of Florida alimony by “type,” in the Table below.  WARNING:  The Table below shows how Florida’s various types of alimony are most commonly awarded.    However, in theory, all four types of alimony can be awarded in marriages of any length.  For example, Permanent Alimony is most commonly awarded in long-term marriages, but could be awarded in a short-term marriage based on a court’s “written findings of exceptional circumstances.”

Type of AlimonyMaximum DurationMost commonly awarded forGrounds for awardingModifiable?Terminates
Bridge the Gap2 yearsShort term marriagesWhen assistance is needed to transition the party from being married to being singleNo1. and 2.
RehabilitativeCompletion of rehab planMarriages of all durationsTo assist a party in establish the capacity for self-supportYes1. and 3.
DurationalLength of the MarriageMedium term marriagesTo provide a party with economic assistance for a set period of time following marriageYes, but usually only as to amount, not term1. and 2.
PermanentA long timeLong term marriagesTo provide the needs and necessities of life as they were established during the marriage for a party who lacks the financial ability to meet such needs and necessitiesYes1.

Table Key:

How Florida Law Defines Marriages Based on the Length:
  1. Short term marriages are less than 7 years.
  1. Medium term marriages are 7 to 17 years.
  1. Long term marriages are 17 years or longer.
Grounds for Terminating Alimony:
  1. Death of either party, remarriage of party receiving alimony, modification case in which the court finds that the facts support the termination of alimony, including a finding that the person receiving alimony is in a “supportive relationship” (a marital like relationship).
  1. Completion of awarded term of alimony, which can be up to 2 years for Bridge the Gap Alimony and the duration of the marriage for Durational Alimony.
  1. Completion of Rehabilitation Plan, or finding of Noncompliance with Rehabilitation Plan.