In a recently decided alimony case captioned Harkness v. Harkness, the wife appealed the final judgment dissolving her marriage and awarding her durational alimony. The husband and wife were married for more than nineteen years. During the marriage, the husband worked full time, and the wife was a stay at home mother raising the parties’ children. After the wife petitioned for dissolution of marriage, she found a job earning substantially less than her husband. In the Final Judgment dissolving the marriage, the trial court ruled that there was no basis for awarding permanent alimony to the wife because she has the capacity to financially sustain herself. Therefore, the trial court awarded her durational alimony for five years. The Florida Court of Appeal reversed this decision.

In reaching its determination, the Florida Court of Appeal stated that in deciding whether or not to award alimony, the trial court is required to first make a determination as to whether one of the parties has a need for alimony, and the other party has the ability to pay. After making this determination, the trial court is to decide which type of alimony is most appropriate. There is a rebuttable presumption that a marriage of seventeen (17) years or longer is a long-term marriage. There is also a rebuttable presumption that a trial court should award permanent alimony for a long-term marriage.

The purpose of permanent alimony is to provide for the necessities and needs of the recipient as they were established during the course of the marriage. It is not intended to divide the parties’ future income in order to create financial equality.  Permanent alimony is inappropriate when there is not a permanent inability on the part of the recipient to become self-sustaining. Alimony is intended to avoid, when possible, having a former spouse pass from always having more than enough, to having only enough to pay for the essentials of shelter, clothing, and food.

In the case at bar, the lower court failed to address the wife’s needs as they were established by the parties during the course of their marriage. Therefore, the Florida Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case back to the trial court.

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