What is the Purpose of Bridge-the-Gap Alimony?
Courts in Florida have long recognized the need to help divorcing parties transition, financially speaking, from the life of a married person to that of a single one. Legally speaking, you are married the moment before the judge signs your divorce decree, and single the moment afterward. Many people are simply not in a position to make the financial adjustment as quickly as the legal change occurs.
You may have heard statistics to the effect that after marriage, one party's standard of living goes up substantially, while the other party's goes down. In other words, bridge-the-gap alimony is intended to "cushion the blow" of the newly-single recipient's financial reality. Courts have been clear, however, that the purpose of this type of support is not "intended to fund the enjoyment of every little luxury enjoyed before divorce." It is to help you get on your feet, not to make sure those feet continue to wear designer shoes.
While Florida courts have awarded alimony intended to bridge the gap between marriage and single life for decades, only in 2010 was bridge-the-gap alimony formalized in a Florida statute. The creation of the law authorizing bridge-the-gap was, in effect, an affirmation and clarification of what Florida courts had already decided.
What Florida Law Says About Bridge-the-Gap Alimony
Bridge-the-gap alimony can be awarded in a divorce if the initial order was entered after July 1, 2010, the effective date of the law (although these types of awards had been upheld on appeal earlier). There are some very specific rules about bridge-the-gap alimony.
According to section 61.08(5) of the Florida Statutes, the section of the law that specifically authorizes this type of spousal support, it is designed to help an individual with "legitimate, identifiable short-term needs." As such, the statute limits the amount of time bridge-the-gap alimony can be awarded for to two years.
The spouse receiving bridge-the-gap alimony must have been unable, despite their best efforts, to provide for the essentials of their transition to single life. A spouse seeking this type of support must be prepared to present competent, substantial evidence of what those needs are. Awards of bridge-the-gap alimony have been reversed on appeal when the evidence showed that the amount of an award exceeded legitimate need. Significant awards have also been upheld on appeal when there has been sufficient evidence to support the amount of the award. The threshold test for awarding bridge-the-gap alimony, in addition to need, is the ability of the other party to pay.
Once awarded, bridge-the-gap alimony awards cannot be modified, either in amount or duration of the award. However, this type of support does terminate upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the party receiving the support.
When is Bridge-the-Gap Alimony Awarded?
Bridge-the-gap alimony is often awarded in divorces involving a short-term marriage. A common scenario involves a spouse who experienced a higher standard of living during the brief marriage than previously, and may have been entirely dependent on a high-earning spouse for support. While bridge-the-gap alimony is more common in shorter marriages, it may be awarded in marriages of moderate length or even long duration.
If You Need Bridge-the-Gap Alimony
If you think that you are in a position to need bridge-the-gap alimony, you must do more than just assert a need. You must be prepared to come before the court with documentation of your specific short-term needs, your own inability to meet them, and your spouse's ability to provide you with the means to bridge the gap, financially, between your marriage and your new life.
One possibility is for you and your spouse to agree on a reasonable amount of bridge-the-gap alimony and a duration for payments, so long as that does not exceed the two years provided for by Florida law. If you and your spouse are unable to agree, you will need to go before a judge.
In either case, you should have the representation of an experienced Florida alimony attorney. A knowledgeable attorney will help you to clarify and document your needs so that you do not agree to a (non-modifiable) amount that is less than you need, and can advocate for a fair settlement. If it becomes necessary to go to court, your attorney will help you present the strongest possible case to the judge in support of your position.
If you have questions about bridge-the-gap alimony in Florida, we invite you to contact the Family Divorce Law Group to schedule a consultation.