An alimony reform bill was recently introduced in the Florida legislature.  This bill will have a significant impact on how alimony will be awarded in Florida if it is passed and signed by the Governor.  The bill will apply to all initial petitions for dissolution of marriage that are filed or pending on July 1, 2023, and to supplemental petitions for modification of alimony.  The following is a brief synopsis of how alimony will be awarded in Florida under this new legislation.

First, the bill eliminates permanent alimony.  In its place, will be four types of alimony.  They will be temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative and durational alimony.  Courts may order alimony to be paid in a lump sum or as periodic payments.

Second, courts will be permitted to consider the adultery of either spouse and its resulting economic impact in determining the amount of alimony to award.

Durational alimony provides a recipient former spouse with financial support for a specific period of time.  In Florida, marriages are classified into three categories.  They are short term marriages, moderate term marriages, and long term marriages.  Short term marriages last less than 7 years.  Moderate term marriages last less than 17 years.  Long term marriages exceed 17 years.  Durational alimony may be awarded when there is a need for support after a short term or a moderate term marriage.  Durational alimony may be awarded after a long term marriage when the recipient spouse will no longer have a need for support after a specific period of time.

In a recently decided case captioned Rea-Manna v. Manna, the wife appealed the trial court’s award of durational alimony.  The Florida Court of Appeal agreed with the wife, and reversed the lower court’s ruling.  The appellate court began its analysis with a discussion about when permanent periodic alimony was appropriate awarded.  The purpose of permanent alimony is to meet the needs of the recipient spouse as they were established by the parties during the course of their marriage.  Permanent alimony is appropriate when recipient spouses are unable to meet their needs after a divorce is granted.  There is a presumption that permanent alimony should be awarded when the parties have been in a long term marriage.  This presumption is rebuttable.  Permanent alimony will not be awarded when recipient spouses have the ability to meet their needs without financial assistance.

Trial courts in Florida may award durational alimony after the termination of long term marriages when spouses will no longer have the need for ongoing support after a specific period of time.  When spouses no longer have a need for ongoing support in order to meet their needs, Florida trial courts may award durational alimony.

Divorce proceedings in Florida often involve the division of businesses.  Courts typically effectuate the division of property and assets in a Florida divorce in such a manner as to allow the operating spouse to retain his or her ownership in the business.  Florida Courts will not require spouses to remain in business together when one or both spouses do not want to continue to do.  Courts will not award each spouse a one-half interest in a business and require them to continue to be business partners. 

In a Florida divorce, courts will obtain a proper valuation of the business and award the business to one of the spouses.  The court will then devise a plan of equitable distribution that is fair to both parties and that causes the least amount of interference with the business.  The court will award the business to one of the spouses and require that spouse to fairly compensate the other spouse.

In a case captioned Bowen v. Volz, the lower court divided a business owned by a husband and wife. The trial court awarded each party a fifty percent interest in their business. The Florida Court of Appeal reviewed this decision and began by commenting on the lack of evidence that was presented to the trial court concerning the value of the business. The Florida Court of Appeal then reversed the trial court.

There are four types of alimony in Florida.  They are permanent alimony, durational alimony, rehabilitative alimony and bridge-the-gap, alimony.  Trial courts may award one or any combination of these four types of alimony.

In a recent case captioned Ogle v. Ogle, the Florida Court of Appeal described the purpose of these four different types of alimony.

The purpose of bridge-the-gap alimony, is to provide funds to assist a person in making the transition from being married to being single.  Its purpose is to provide funds for identifiable, legitimate short-term needs.

In Florida, courts begin with the premise that the distribution of marital assets and liabilities will be equal.  Courts look at all of the following 10 factors to determine whether an unequal division of marital assets is appropriate:

(i) whether one of the parties has made an extraordinary contribution to the marriage that is above and beyond the contribution that spouses ordinarily make to a marriage;

(ii) whether the economic circumstances of the parties warrant an unequal distribution of marital assets;

In Florida, courts may award shared parental responsibility, sole parental responsibility and ultimate decision making authority.  Florida courts prefer to award shared parental decision making.

Shared parental responsibility means that parents are required to attempt to confer and reach agreement on major issues that affect the welfare of their children. Major decisions include the children’s education, extra-curricular activities, healthcare, social and religious training and general welfare.  In the event that parents are unable to reach agreement on a major issue that affects the welfare of their child, the issue can then be resolved by the trial court.

Sole parental responsibility means that one parent can unilaterally make decisions on behalf of the parties’ child without consulting with the other parent.  A Florida Court will award sole parental responsibility when the court determines that shared parental decision making would be detrimental to a child’s best interests.

A recently decided alimony case captioned Rodolph v. Rodolph involved two appeals by the husband.  Since both appeals involved the same parties and the same facts, the Florida Court of Appeal consolidated the cases into one appeal.  In Rodolph v. Rodolph, the husband appealed the lower court’s order denying his Supplemental Petition for Termination or Modification of Alimony.  Additionally, the Husband appealed the award of $39,000.00 in attorney’s fees to his wife.

In this case, the husband and wife were married for 33 years.  At the time of the divorce, the Husband had been a corrections officer for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for twenty-four years.  In the final judgment of dissolution, the wife was granted permanent periodic alimony and a portion of husband’s retirement funds.  Husband filed a Supplemental Petition to Either Modify or Terminate Alimony.  Husband’s Supplemental Petition for Modification of Alimony alleged that husband did not have the ability to continue to pay alimony because he was involuntarily unemployed due to his heart condition, his neck and back problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome in his wrist and arm.  Husband also alleged that his wife no longer had a need for alimony because she received the first share of husband’s retirement funds, she was receiving disability payments and her monthly expenses were reduced. While Husband’s Supplemental Petition for Modification was pending, Wife filed a Motion for Contempt of Court against Husband because Husband ceased making alimony payments.

At the hearing on husband’s Supplemental Petition for Modification of Alimony, husband testified that he was receiving social security payments, but was earning no income.  He also testified that he remarried and was living with his new wife and her children. Husband purchased a new home and incurred various expenses.  In order to meet his expenses, husband withdrew $3,500 per month from his retirement account.  Wife testified that her expenses for rent, association fees, water, garbage, insurance, cable, and donations to religious organizations exceeded her income.

Durational alimony terminates when either of the parties dies or the recipient of alimony remarries.

In a unique case captioned Dills v. Perez the parties’ marital settlement agreement contained a provision that stated that the former husband’s obligation to pay durational alimony to the former wife was non-modifiable.  At the time that the parties got divorced, they entered into a marital settlement agreement that was incorporated into their final judgment of dissolution of marriage.

The parties’ marital settlement agreement required the former husband to pay durational alimony to the former wife for a period of forty-eight (48) months.  Additionally, the parties’ marital settlement agreement contained a provision that the former husband’s obligation to pay durational alimony was non-modifiable.  Although the parties’ marital settlement agreement contained a provision that the former husband’s alimony obligation would not terminate upon the former husband’s death, it did not specifically discuss the effect that remarriage would have on the former husband’s durational alimony obligation.

In Florida, pets are considered to be personal property.  In the event that a pet was owned by one of the parties prior to the marriage, that party will be entitled to keep the pet.  In the event that the pet was acquired by the parties during the course of the marriage, the pet will be distributed in accordance with Florida’s equitable distribution statute.

In Florida, trial courts will not award custody and visitation of family dogs and cats.  The Florida Court of Appeal stated that while some states do award custody and visitation of family pets, Florida does not do so.  The reason is that Florida courts are overwhelmed with child support cases and cases involving the custody and visitation of children.  They do not want to undertake supervision and enforcement issues involving pets.

In a recent case captioned Harby v. Harby, the Former Husband and the Former Wife were married in December 2001.  In November 2017, the Former Wife filed a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  The Former Husband and Former Wife own two dogs.  Their names are Liberty and Nico. At the trial, the Former Wife testified that Liberty was an emotional support dog. The Former Wife also testified that she took care of Liberty and Nico from 2013 to 2017.  Between 2017 and the date of the trial, the Former Husband took care of both dogs.

In a recent child support case involving unmarried parents, the mother attempted to impute income to the father. The father lost his job as a commodity broker as a result of his misappropriation of funds.  The mother introduced a report from a vocational expert in an attempt to impute income to the father.

In a case captioned, Damask v. Ryabchenko, the Florida Court of Appeal began by pointing out that Florida’s child support guideline presumptively set forth the amount that trial courts should award as child support in initial proceedings and modification proceedings.  The child support guidelines can be also used to provide a basis to prove that there has been a substantial change of circumstances that warrants a modification of child support.

Income should be imputed to unemployed or underemployed parents when their unemployment or underemployment is voluntary. If a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the parent’s probable earnings are determined based upon his or her recent earnings, qualifications, and prevailing earnings in the community. The party seeking to impute income has the burden of proving that the other party’s unemployment or underemployment was voluntary, and must provide evidence to the court that income is available to the payor from employment for which he or she is qualified by education, experience, and geographic location.  In determining geographic location, consideration should be given to the parties’ custody and visitation schedule and the parties historical utilization of time-sharing with their children.

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