You may be loosely aware of the concept of alimony or have a general idea of what it means, but that word can take on a whole new meaning when you suddenly find yourself in the thick of a divorce. And when it comes down to understanding the different types of alimony, you might be totally in the dark. But don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll explain what alimony is in Florida and how it’s determined, as well as the different types of alimony that could be awarded.
What is Alimony?
Alimony is a financial payment a party may be ordered to give to their spouse before or after marital separation or divorce. Alimony is not appropriate in all cases, and any award will be determined based upon numerous factors, including the length of the marriage, need, and ability to pay.
Simply stated, alimony is typically a monthly payment that one spouse pays the other after separation or divorce for their support. Often in a marriage, one spouse will be earning significantly more than the other. It is also very common for one partner to earn 100% of the income while the other partner takes care of other important duties, like caring for children, elderly relatives, or other household matters. Divorce may leave that latter partner, who doesn’t earn any (or much) money, without the means to support themselves in a manner reasonably consistent with the standard of living established during the marriage. That is why alimony exists; it’s a court-ordered payment intended to avoid one party’s standard of living from being drastically reduced after the divorce when the other has the ability to assist financially.
How is Alimony Awarded?
During the divorce process, a judge will look at a variety of factors to determine if and how much alimony should be awarded by one spouse to another. Typically, the specifics of an alimony agreement or judicially decided alimony award are determined by the length of the marriage. This is calculated by looking at the date of marriage and the date of filing. Factors other than the length of the marriage the judge may consider are: the age and health of each spouse, the earning capacity of each spouse, the expenses each party incur to maintain their standard of living, contributions to the career of the other, and more. Read more about how alimony is calculated in the state of Florida here.
If you are filing in the state of Florida, it’s important to know that Florida is a no-fault divorce state and does not require a “legal separation.” Parties can be considered separated merely by no longer living as husband and wife or residing in separate residences. However, the length of the marriage will still be determined by the filing date of the dissolution of marriage, even if the separation occurred years before.
“In the state of Florida, statutes provide a list of factors that the court can consider in determining which type of alimony is appropriate.”
Types of Alimony
Did you know that there are several different types of alimony? The specifics of your situation will dictate which type of alimony, if any, can be awarded in your case. Below are the different types of Alimony in Florida:
Permanent alimony typically applies to long-term marriages (17 years or more) only. After 17 years of marriage, the courts presume that permanent alimony is appropriate if there is a need and ability to pay. Permanent alimony typically continues until either party dies or until the payee spouse remarries.
However, unless the parties agreed that the alimony was non-modifiable, it can be changed or terminated based upon a substantial change in circumstances. Examples of these changes include the retirement of the spouse paying alimony at average retirement age, reduction in income of spouse paying alimony, increase in income of spouse receiving alimony, or the spouse receiving alimony being in a supportive relationship.
Durational alimony is quite common and is awarded when “permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate to provide a party with economic assistance for a set period of time following a marriage of short or moderate duration.” Essentially, this type of alimony is set in place when the parties don’t qualify for permanent alimony, but there is still a need and ability to pay. Durational alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage and generally is awarded for at least half the length of the marriage. As with permanent alimony, durational alimony terminates upon the death of either party or the recipient’s remarriage. Durational alimony can also be modified under certain circumstances so long as the parties did not agree otherwise.
This type of alimony helps a party transition from being married to being single. This is strictly short-term alimony and cannot exceed two years. Bridge-the-gap may not be modified in amount or duration but does automatically terminate upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the spouse receiving alimony.
Rehabilitative alimony is intended to assist the spouse needing support in establishing the capacity to support themselves by either redeveloping previous work skills or obtaining new education, training, or experience that enable the spouse in need of alimony to become self-supporting. If this is something that applies to you, it is essential to have an explicit plan to acquire these skills, such as a specific training program, college degree, or licensure that you would need to obtain, including the costs of the particular plan. The amount of alimony awarded will include the amount needed for basic support, plus the expenses of the rehab plan. The spouse receiving alimony may also be entitled to alimony at a lower amount to take effect once the rehabilitative plan/alimony is complete. In some circumstances, the spouse may apply to extend the alimony if they failed to become supporting, despite their best efforts. However, the request must be filed before the specific plan expires, or the court will lose jurisdiction.
A lump sum provides a simple fixed payment, meant to be a final settlement between the parties. It is most commonly used when the parties choose to do so but is not often awarded when the court is left to decide. This sum is not subject to modification, increase, decrease, or termination in the event of any contingency, even death or remarriage. This type of alimony is unique in that it can be monetary but could also be personal property.
The final type of alimony, although often the first to be awarded, is temporary. It is usually is paid during the pendency of the divorce. This alimony recognizes that a lower-earning spouse may need financial support between the time the divorce is filed and the time that the judge signs a final order. When determining the temporary support, the length of the marriage is less important. Rather, the focus is more on keeping the status quo without luxury expenses such as vacations.
One important thing to note when considering the different types of alimony is that a court may sometimes award a combination of these different types of alimony that may be paid periodically (i.e., monthly) or in lump sum form. Additionally, a court will consider the alimony award (other than temporary) after equitable distribution of the marital assets and liabilities has been completed. Only then will the court know what the financial circumstances will be for the respective parties to determine the need and ability to pay.
While assets awarded through equitable distribution are not required to be used for support, these assets may be income-producing, which must be considered.
So now that you understand the different types of alimony that exist, where does this leave you? What do you do next? Make sure you have a trustworthy and experienced attorney on your side to help you navigate the complexities of alimony — and all the other trials of divorce.