For many people who are thinking about filing for divorce or have been served with divorce papers, the pressing question is, “How will I get by financially?” It's a valid concern. Marriage is a partnership, and often one partner earns all or most of the money, while the other takes care of the home and children. It can be a beneficial arrangement for everyone until the partnership breaks apart. Then the spouse who has been out of the workforce, or working only part-time, may suddenly need more income. The concept of alimony, or spousal support, as it is known in Florida, was designed to address such situations. Here's what you need to know about getting alimony in a Florida divorce.
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT ALIMONY
Many people think that alimony is a relic of a bygone time when husbands worked, and wives stayed home to care for the children and house; with women in the workforce, surely alimony is no longer needed?
The truth is that, while alimony may look different than it did in the past, it is still common. How much alimony is awarded and how long it varies is based on the facts of each case (more on that below). That said, receiving alimony is not a sure thing, as some other people believe.
One other common “myth” about alimony was, until recently, a fact. You might assume that someone who pays spousal support can deduct those payments on their income taxes, while a person who receives it has to count that support as taxable income. That was true for a long time. However, the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changed that aspect of tax law. If you end up paying alimony, you can no longer deduct it from your taxable income. If you receive spousal support, you won't need to pay taxes on it.
BASICS OF FLORIDA SPOUSAL SUPPORT
There are five types of alimony in Florida:
- Alimony pendente lite (literally “during litigation”); this is temporary spousal support paid during the divorce process.
- “Bridge the gap” alimony designed to help a party bridge the gap between being a spouse and starting over as a single person. This type of support covers the costs necessary to start one's new life.
- Rehabilitative alimony is intended to help a spouse receive the necessary education or training to become self-supporting.
- Durational alimony is awarded in the case of short- or moderate-term marriages. Support is granted for a period that must not exceed the duration of the marriage.
- Permanent alimony is awarded if the spouse in need of support is unlikely to be able to become self-supporting in such a way as to achieve the standard of living established during the marriage. Permanent alimony is usually awarded only in longer-term and some (but rarely) moderate-term marriages.
Regardless of the type of alimony or duration, the single most crucial factor determining whether spousal support will be awarded in Florida is the need for financial support by one spouse. Florida courts require that there be “actual need” to award alimony and also that the other party has the ability to pay support.
FACTORS CONSIDERED WHEN AWARDING ALIMONY IN A FLORIDA DIVORCE
While there is no formula involved in determining alimony, many factors are outlined in Florida law that the courts must consider. They are:
(a) The standard of living established during the marriage.
(b) The duration of the marriage.
(c) The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party.
(d) The financial resources of each party, including the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.
(e) The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties and, when applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable such party to find appropriate employment.
(f) The contribution of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and the other party's career-building.
(g) The responsibilities each party will have concerning any minor children they have in common.
(h) The tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award, including the designation of all or a portion of the payment as a nontaxable, nondeductible payment.
(i) All income sources available to either party, including income available to either party through investments of any asset held by that party.
(j) Any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.
These factors are intended to take into account all the circumstances of the divorcing spouses. A spousal support determination will look much different for a married couple in their 30s who have been married for three years and have no children than for a married couple in their 50s who have been married 30 years, with one spouse who has been out of the workforce for almost three decades, caring for the house and children.
Note the last factor, which is something of a catchall; an award of spousal support can take into account any factor necessary to bring about a just result.
Of course, you and your spouse can agree on the terms of spousal support and remove the decision from the judge's hands. Suppose you are unable to reach an agreement. In that case, however, it is essential to work with an attorney who understands how to present your position to the court in the most favorable light possible.
Alimony in Florida is a complex topic that we will be addressing in greater depth in future blog posts. If you have questions about getting alimony in a Florida divorce, we invite you to contact us to schedule a consultation with an experienced Jacksonville divorce lawyer. At Florida Divorce Law Group, we practice family law throughout Florida, and we have consultation offices in Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, and Miami. We also have Zoom video meetings available, and of course phone consultations.