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 an easy one to answer right out of the gate. Will you have to pay alimony in a Florida divorce? It depends on a number of 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 financially support their children, there is no such duty to support an ex-spouse. Whether spousal support is awarded (if the spouses don't agree 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 ability of the other party 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. By the same token, no matter how much money the higher-earning spouse has, 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 be able to 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 a number of 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 home and family. The longer one spouse has been out of the workforce in such an arrangement, the harder it is going to 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 in order 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 from 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. It is true that some states will award a spouse receiving alimony a greater amount if the paying spouse was at fault in the breakdown of the marriage. Florida does not use alimony as a punishment to 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 in order to be fair and equitable. If 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, they might end up paying more in alimony. The increased payments wouldn't be to punish the spouse who strayed, but to help compensate the other spouse for the lost marital assets.
There is one factor in the outcome of a Florida alimony case that many people don't take into account 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 the lawyers put before them. If you work with an experienced Florida 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 a little less in attorney fees for a less-experienced attorney, only to pay much more in the long run in increased spousal support payments.