Alimony is a court-ordered payment made by one spouse to the other during and/or after a divorce. The concept of alimony developed during a time when it was common for one spouse to work full-time while the other stayed home to raise the couple’s family or care for the household. When one spouse files for divorce, the other must adjust from two incomes to one, which, in some cases, can be difficult. While it’s more common today for both spouses to earn a paycheck, alimony is still an option for either spouse to ensure that no one is left destitute or in need of state assistance after the divorce.
Florida provides five types of alimony: temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or permanent. Couples can negotiate the terms of the alimony award, including the type, duration, and amount of support. However, if you can’t agree, the judge will evaluate your circumstances and decide for you.
Temporary support is available to a needy spouse during the divorce proceedings. Before the court orders support, the requesting spouse must demonstrate a need for support and that the other spouse has the ability to pay. Temporary support will help the lower-earning spouse remain financially stable during the lengthy divorce process and ends when the judge finalizes the divorce.
Florida is one of few states that offer bridge-the-gap alimony, which helps the recipient spouse meet legitimate short-term needs while transitioning from married to single. For example, the needy spouse may use the support to pay bills while waiting for the marital home to sell, or to meet other living expenses while attempting to find full-time work after the divorce. Bridge-the-gap support can’t exceed two years and terminates if the paying spouse dies or the supported spouse remarries. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 61.08 (5) (2018).)
Perhaps the most common type of alimony in Florida is rehabilitative support. The court awards rehabilitative support in cases where one spouse can become self-supporting but needs time and financial assistance to redevelop previous skills, or to acquire education, training, or work experience necessary to develop necessary skills and enter the workforce. Before the court awards rehabilitative alimony, spouses must create a specific and defined rehabilitative plan for the court to review.
Durational support is like rehabilitative support in that the court sets a time limit for the alimony. However, there is no rehabilitative plan necessary. Durational alimony is appropriate in cases where the supported spouse needs financial help for a set period after the divorce, but the spouse doesn’t qualify for permanent alimony. Support may not last longer than the marriage. For example, if you were married for 10 years, your alimony award may not exceed 10 years.
Permanent alimony is rare, and the court reserves awards for spouses who need financial assistance and are unable to become self-supporting in the future. Permanent alimony may be appropriate in cases where the supported spouse is disabled, of advanced age, or caring for a minor child with special needs. In addition to demonstrating special circumstances that require permanent support, the court will also consider the length of the couple’s marriage when deciding a final award.
Like bridge-the-gap alimony, durational, rehabilitative, and permanent alimony ends if the paying spouse dies or the supported spouse remarries. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 61.08 (2018).)
Contrary to popular belief, alimony isn’t only available to women. Either spouse can request support, and the court will evaluate whether the requesting spouse needs help and whether the other spouse can pay. If the court finds the “need and ability” the judge will then assess the following factors:
Florida courts may also consider whether either spouse committed adultery during the marriage and how the affair impacted the couple’s marital funds. For example, if one spouse cheated and paid for an apartment, living expenses, or trips with a girlfriend or boyfriend, the court may factor in the spending when calculating alimony.
There is no formula for judges to use when deciding how much and what type of alimony is appropriate. In addition to the above factors, the court must also ensure that the paying spouse’s net income is no less than the supported spouse (unless there are extraordinary circumstances.) Judges have broad discretion when deciding the type (or types), duration, and amount of alimony appropriate for your case.
Unless the couple agrees in writing, that neither will ask the court to review alimony, either spouse can request a modification if there is a significant change in circumstances since the last support order. However, bridge-the-gap alimony is non-modifiable. Additionally, courts may modify the amount of durational support but not the length.
If the supported spouse doesn’t comply with the rehabilitative alimony plan while receiving support, the paying spouse can ask the court to modify or terminate the award later.
Historically (for divorces finalized before December 31, 2018), alimony payments were tax-deductible to the paying spouse and reportable income to the supported spouse.
However, if the court finalized your divorce on or after January 1, 2019, you can no longer take advantage of the tax deduction for alimony payments, and the supported spouse doesn’t report the money as income for tax purposes.
It’s essential to speak with an experienced divorce attorney before you negotiate alimony to ensure that your settlement agreement reflects the tax changes in your support award.