Alimony is the payment of money from one divorcing spouse to another, made after the separation or divorce. The concept of alimony has been around at least since the time of the ancient Babylonians, so it is nothing new. The purpose of alimony is for support and maintenance of a former (or soon-to-be former) spouse. Alimony is separate from child support, in that its purpose is to help support the former spouse, not the children. That being said, it is likely any children of the marriage will benefit from the stability that alimony will help provide.
In Florida, the court may make a finding of alimony based on a number of criteria, including duration of the marriage, the standard of living achieved during the marriage, the ability of the spouse to pay alimony, the need of the other spouse to receive alimony and a number of other considerations we will discuss more thoroughly another time.
In this post we will look at the types of alimony that are awarded in Florida. In another article we will talk about the criteria the court considers in awarding alimony. These rules and definitions are set out in the Florida Statutes Section 61.08
Temporary alimony is what it says it is – temporary. This is usually awarded to help meet the needs of the other party from the date of filing of divorce action until a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage is entered. Temporary alimony can become a more permanent type of alimony, but is often terminated upon the entry of that final judgment.
Bridge the Gap Alimony
Bridge-the-gap alimony serves to help the transition between married life and single life. It is of relatively short duration, no more than two years, and is meant to assist in clearly identifiable needs of the spouse. If either party dies, the alimony award stops, or if the party receiving it remarries, the obligation terminates. It is interesting to note that this type of alimony can neither be modified in amount or duration – it is basically chiseled in stone.
This type of alimony is ordered when time is needed for the former spouse to become self-supporting. Rehabilitative alimony will assist the spouse in updating or redeveloping skills or credentials, or returning to college or trade school to help them acquire employment skills or credentials.
In order for this type of alimony to be awarded, the rehabilitating spouse must submit a plan to the court which must be specific and defined. “I plan to go back to college” is probably not specific enough. “I will attend FSU for my Master’s in Education and become a certified English teacher in the next two years” or “I am attending Nursing school and will take the licensing exam by __________(date)” probably would be specific and defined enough for the court to approve rehabilitative alimony.
It should be noted that if the rehabilitating spouse does not comply with the plan, the award of rehabilitative alimony could be modified or terminated. When the plan has been completed, the alimony is usually terminated as they should now be self-supporting. The award of rehabilitative alimony can also be terminated or modified if there is a “substantial change in circumstances.” This change can be anything from remarriage of one of the spouses to winning the lottery to the loss of the supporting spouse’s job.
Durational alimony may be awarded when permanent alimony is not appropriate, but some support is deemed necessary for a period of time. Its purpose is to provide some economic assistance for a period of time following a marriage of short or moderate duration, or after a marriage of long duration if permanent alimony is not necessary. Unlike rehabilitative alimony, there is no need to present a plan to achieve economic independence.
Durational alimony terminates on the death of either party, or if the one receiving alimony remarries. The amount of durational alimony may be modified based on “substantial change in circumstances” but the length of time it must be paid cannot be modified. Finally, the time one must durational alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage.
Permanent alimony is awarded most often for marriages of long duration, defined by statute as those of 17 years or more. This is to assist with “the needs and necessities of life as they were established during the marriage.” Here the court must look at the criteria set out in the statutes to determine the need of the former spouse on one hand, and the ability of the other spouse to pay on the other hand.
Permanent alimony can be awarded in cases of moderate duration marriages, defined as those lasting between 7-17 years if there is clear and convincing evidence that is appropriate after considering these factors. Less common, but still occasionally requested, permanent alimony may be awarded to a spouse when the duration of the marriage was short, less than 7 years, if there are written findings of exceptional circumstances. For instance, if the marriage was short, but during that time the spouse requesting alimony was severely and permanently disabled, permanent alimony might be awarded because they will never be able to be self-supporting.
You should also be aware that “permanent” does not necessarily mean “forever.” If there has been a substantial change in circumstances, such as job loss or retirement, the award may be modified or terminated. If the party receiving alimony remarries or enters into a “supportive relationship” (this usually means cohabitating with another person), then the award may be terminated. Again, if either party dies, then the obligation to pay permanent alimony terminates.
Lump Sum Alimony
This type of alimony is probably the least common, and perhaps shouldn’t even be considered alimony. Once in a while it is used as a form of support, but most often is used as a method to equalize asset distribution – one party gets a large asset, such as a business or property, the other party gets a lump sum payout.
Some Final Thoughts
Keep in mind that the Florida statutes dictate that “The award of alimony may not leave the payor with significantly less net income than the net income of the recipient unless there are written findings of exceptional circumstances.” Be sure to accurately represent income, debt and assets so that the court can abide by this rule. Although the court may consider the adultery of one or the other spouse in determining the alimony award, the primary purpose of alimony is not to punish one party to the benefit of the other – it is to assist with the expenses of life.
The next article in this series will discuss the various criteria the courts consider in awarding alimony. This is a complex area of divorce law, and you need to consult with an experienced and dedicated family law attorney, one familiar with the Florida laws and policies.