An alimony case involving the reimbursement of business expenses was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal in a case captioned Ortega v. Wood. In Ortega v. Wood, the husband was an optician who owned an optical business with his mother. The wife sought to impute income to the husband for in-kind benefits and business expense reimbursements that were provided to the husband by his business. The optical business provided the husband with an apartment at no cost and paid for his personal expenses, including his dentist appointments, his doctor’s appointments, his massages, his lab tests, his pharmaceuticals, his lawn mower, and products that he ordered from GNC.
In reaching its alimony determination, the trial court did not consider the business’ provision of the husband’s apartment and the payments for the husband’s medical appointments, dental appointments, lab tests, massages, GNC products, and pharmaceuticals to be income. Because the husband testified that the business provided all of its employees with the same reimbursements, the trial court ruled that these payments were reasonable business expenses and did not consider them to be income when it calculated the husband’s alimony obligation.
The wife appealed the trial court’s Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage to the Florida Court of Appeal. The Florida Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and held that the trial court should have included the in-kind payments and expense reimbursements that husband received from the optical business in determining the husband’s alimony obligation. The appellate court pointed out that under Florida law, for purposes of calculating alimony, “income” is defined as any type of payment, including, without limitation, salary, wages, bonuses, commissions, disability benefits, worker’s compensation, retirement benefits and annuities, dividends, pensions, interest, trusts, royalties, and any other payments made by a private entity, person, or governmental entity.
The Florida Court of Appeal went on to state that in calculating alimony, trial courts are required to include as income regular and expected employment benefits that reduce a payor’s living expenses. In-kind payments and reimbursed business expenses are considered to be income for purposes of calculating alimony to the extent that these in-kind payments and reimbursed business expenses reduce the alimony payor’s living expenses. Term life insurance, medical insurance, the use of a company car, and IRA contributions that are paid by an employer are all considered to be income for purposes of calculating alimony in Florida. However, when reimbursements are used to pay for business expenses, Florida Courts do not impute them as income in calculating alimony payments. For example, a spouses’ per diem reimbursement for business expenses will not be considered to be as income for purposes of calculating alimony when the funds are used to pay for business travel and do not reduce a spouses’ personal living expenses. Additionally, the value of payments that are periodic and not regularly provided are also not imputed as income in calculating a payor’s alimony obligation.
To speak with a Wellington, Florida divorce attorney to discuss family law issues, contact the Lane Law Firm, P.A. at (561) 363-3400.