Will You Have to Pay Alimony in a Florida Divorce?
One of the questions we frequently get from new divorce clients, especially if they earn much more than their spouse, is whether they will have to pay alimony. It's a reasonable question, but it is not always easy to answer right out of the gate. Will you have to pay alimony in a Florida divorce? It depends on several factors.
Alimony in Florida is also called spousal support. Unlike child support, there are no guidelines or worksheets to calculate spousal support. And while parents have the legal duty to support their children financially, there is no such duty to support an ex-spouse. Whether spousal support is awarded (if the spouses disagree on this issue) is left to the court to decide.
The Most Important Factors in a Florida Alimony Case
Florida alimony is based, first and foremost, on two things: the need of the party requesting support and the other party's ability to pay support. If one party has documented financial need, but the other cannot pay support and have enough left over for their own needs, alimony is not proper. No matter how much money the higher-earning spouse earns, if the other spouse has plenty of resources to meet their needs, the court will not order alimony.
You might be thinking to yourself at this point that what your spouse views as a “need” is something you see as a luxury. How is need determined in a Florida spousal support case? The definition of need varies somewhat depending on the circumstances. The general intention of a court in awarding alimony is that both spouses can maintain, as far as possible, the standard of living they established during the marriage.
How the Length of Your Marriage Affects Alimony
As you might imagine, one factor that also weighs heavily in an alimony calculation is the length of a marriage. This makes sense for several reasons. One spouse is more likely to be financially dependent on the other when their lives have been entwined for decades. A couple in a long-term marriage may have had an agreement, either express or implied, that one would pursue a career while the other took care of the home and family. The more prolonged one spouse has been out of the workforce in such an arrangement, the harder it will be for them to get a job that will allow them to be self-supporting. And, of course, the longer a marriage, the older the spouses are likely to be. A dependent spouse may be too old or too frail to get a job that would allow for self-support.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about how long you have to be married in Florida to receive spousal support, but there are some general presumptions.
If you have been married less than seven years, there is a presumption against an alimony award, at least an award of permanent periodic alimony. If you have been married over seventeen years, there is a presumption in favor of it. What exactly does this mean? It means that the court is likely to rule in favor of the person with the presumption on their side. Presumptions regarding alimony are rebuttable, however, meaning that they can be overcome with evidence.
For instance, let's say that Lee and Sam have been married for 20 years, with Lee supporting the family while Sam stayed home with the kids. Sam files for divorce and asks for alimony. A court would be inclined to rule in Sam's favor. But if Lee can show that Sam has significant income from a family trust and investment property bought before the marriage, the court might find that Sam doesn't need spousal support.
How Does Fault Factor Into an Alimony Determination?
Sometimes a client will ask us whether fault enters into the calculation of alimony. Some states will indeed award a spouse receiving alimony a more generous amount if the paying spouse was at fault in the breakdown of the marriage. Florida does not use alimony to punish a party who had an affair or gambled away marital assets.
That is not to say that Florida courts cannot consider fault when making an alimony determination, but it is not done to punish the paying spouse. Instead, courts may award a dependent spouse a larger support award to be fair and equitable. Suppose the spouse paying alimony had an affair, and took the affair partner on expensive trips, bought them jewelry, or otherwise spent marital assets on them. In that case, they might end up paying more in alimony. The increased payments would not punish the spouse who strayed but will help compensate the other spouse for lost marital assets.
One factor in the outcome of a Florida alimony case that many people do not consider until it is too late: their attorney. An alimony determination can be very subjective, based on an analysis of many factors. The decision a judge makes may depend in large part on the evidence your lawyer put before them. If you work with an experienced Tampa alimony attorney, you have a better chance of the judge getting the information he or she needs to rule in your favor. You might pay less in attorney fees for a less-experienced attorney, only to pay much more in the long run in increased spousal support payments.
If you have questions about getting alimony or paying alimony in your Tampa divorce, we invite you to contact us to schedule a consultation with an experienced Tampa 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.