What is called “permanent periodic alimony” in Florida is probably what most people think of when they think of alimony: regular, ongoing payments for the support of one spouse after the end of a longer-term marriage. There is a good reason for this: permanent alimony was the original form of spousal support awarded by courts.
Permanent alimony is intended to provide for the necessities of life for the lower-earning former spouse as those needs were established during the marriage of the parties. Florida courts try not to shortchange either party in this process; there is a balancing act involved, trying to ensure that neither the spouse paying alimony, nor the one receiving it, gets shortchanged. The goal is to try, as far as possible, to allow both spouses to maintain the standard of living established during their marriage.
How Permanent Periodic Alimony in Florida is Awarded
Each state approaches alimony, including permanent alimony, differently. In Florida, written statutes lay the groundwork on which courts decide an award of spousal support (as alimony is now called). Fla. Stat. § 61.08(8) (2012) says that when awarding permanent periodic alimony, a court must include a finding that, under the circumstances, no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable. This requirement is relatively recent, and has had the effect of limiting a trial court's ability to award permanent alimony.
As with all types of spousal support in Florida, the spouse seeking permanent periodic alimony must have financial need. The length of the marriage plays an essential role in the determination of whether permanent alimony is awarded. Think of a presumption like weight on a seesaw or scales; unless something is added to the other side to counter it, the law comes down on the side of the spouse with the presumption in their favor.
There is a presumption that permanent alimony is appropriate in a long-term Florida marriage. However, this presumption can be rebutted if the spouse opposing an award of alimony presents evidence to the contrary. Likewise, there is a presumption that permanent alimony is not appropriate in a short-term marriage. This presumption, too, can also be rebutted by evidence presented to the court. In general, the shorter the marriage, the more compelling the situation of the spouse seeking permanent alimony must be to justify an award. If permanent alimony is awarded following a short-term marriage, the court must make written findings of the exceptional circumstances that led to the award.
Marriages of moderate duration are something of a “grey area,” as Florida courts have acknowledged. In a moderate-term marriage, there is neither a presumption for an award of permanent periodic alimony, nor a presumption against such an award. An award of permanent periodic alimony in a moderate-term marriage must be based on the factors in Fla. Stat. § 61.08(2). These include the age, physical, and emotional condition of each spouse; each spouse's financial resources; each spouse's educational level and earning capacity; and other factors that affect each spouse's ability to be self-supporting. The last factor that must be considered is “any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.” This gives the court the ability to consider relevant factors not specifically mentioned in the statute.
Since so much depends on the length of the marriage, let's take a look at how long-, short-, and moderate-term marriages are defined in Florida. Fla. Stat. § 61.08(4) defines a short-term marriage as one lasting less than seven years; a long-term marriage is one lasting seventeen years or more. A moderate-term marriage, of course, falls in between. The length of the marriage is measured from the wedding day until the day that the divorce case was filed.
Can Permanent Periodic Alimony Be Modified?
Permanent alimony terminates on the death of either party, or on the remarriage of the person receiving the alimony. Permanent periodic alimony can also be modified based on a “substantial change in circumstances,” or if the person receiving alimony is in a “supportive relationship.” A supportive relationship could include living with a romantic partner without getting married to them. The burden is on the party trying to modify or terminate alimony to prove a supportive relationship. However, they only need to prove it is more likely than not that such a relationship exists, not to prove it beyond any reasonable doubt.
If you think that an award of permanent alimony might be in your future, make sure you have good legal representation. Whether you expect to pay it or receive it, permanent alimony could last for decades, and even a small difference in a monthly payment will really add up over time. Contact us at The Florida Divorce Law Group, we will put our experience and all of our abilities to your service.