Florida’s Alimony Statute Undergoes Facelift
Law Firm of Burman, Critton, Luttier & Coleman
Florida’s alimony statute (§61.08, Florida Statutes) has undergone a facelift in the past year, with several substantive changes designed to provide more structure and guidance to family law practitioners and parties in dissolution of marriage proceedings.
If nothing else, two main points to take away from this brief article are that Florida law now: 1) specifically defines and categorizes the length of a marriage; and 2) provides for for what is called “durational alimony.”
Pursuant to the new amendments, which became effective July 1, 2010, has broken down the length of marriages as follows:
- “Short-Term” marriage (< 7 years): A marriage lasting less than 7 years, is now deemed a
- Moderate-Term” marriage (>7 years but less than < 17 years): A marriage that lasts at least 7 years but less than 17 years; and
- “Long-Term” Marriage (>17 years): A marriage lasting greater than 17 years.
“Length of marriage” is defined as the date of the parties’ exchanged vows until the date a spouse files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
For the most part, the changes to the alimony statute merely codify the policies and results Florida courts have been espousing for the last decade. However, probably the most notable change under Florida alimony law, is the addition of what is termed “durational” alimony, a brand new option for the Florida courts in awarding alimony to a spouse. This notion of durational alimony is well-established in various other states, and finally, the Florida legislature has come around to address a gaping hole in its statutory framework.
Durational Alimony: For the first time ever in Florida, “durational alimony” is now provided for under Florida law. Durational alimony has been implemented to be applied to short-term and moderate-term marriages (f/k/a “grey-area” marriages). The statutory framework for alimony awards essentially left a huge hole for moderate-term marriages.
Historically, Florida courts were somewhat handcuffed in alimony awards for moderate-term marriages (f/k/a “grey-area” marriages), which inevitably led to protracted litigation. For example, a spouse in a 10-12-year marriage would either be awarded permanent alimony, or some hybrid alimony award for a brief duration. Often times, a spouse would choose to roll the dice and proceed to trial in hopes the Court would award permanent alimony, because the alternative (some hybrid of rehab or bridge-the-gap alimony) was his or her worst day in Court anyway. Thus, the Florida legislature implemented “durational” alimony so that it may be awarded when permanent alimony is not appropriate.
The amount of durational alimony awarded is modifiable only upon a showing of substantial change in circumstances; however, the length of a durational alimony award is non-modifiable (except under exceptional circumstances) never to exceed the length of marriage.
It remains to be seen the interplay between durational and permanent alimony in moderate-term marriages. Regardless, at least the statute provides bright-line standards and definitions, while trying to plug the gap on alimony awards in moderate-term marriages.
Further, the new statute sets forth subtle nuances to each type of alimony:
- Bridge-the-Gap Alimony: This type of alimony is usually awarded in short-term marriages where a spouse needs support for a brief duration after the divorce to become self-supportive. The new wrinkle expressly states that such an alimony award cannot exceed 2 years duration and is non-modifiable in amount or duration.
- Rehabilitative Alimony: Typically awarded in cases where a spouse is enrolled or anticipates becoming enrolled in educational/vocational programs during and/or subsequent to the divorce proceedings. Although many trial judges have long-required a written rehabilitation plan, the new statute expressly requires a spouse to create a specific and defined written rehabilitation plan to submit to the Court for approval and incorporation into any Final Judgment.
Thus, if a spouse suddenly gets the urge to go to law school or the police academy during the dissolution proceedings, despite her training as a nurse for 15 years, he or she is now required to give a detailed “rehabilitation plan” in writing to be approved by the Court.
Rehabilitative alimony typically will be awarded for a brief duration pursuant to the rehabilitation plan, and is modifiable only upon: a) substantial change in circumstances; b) non-compliance by the spouse with the rehabilitation; and/or c) completion of rehabilitation plan.
- Permanent Alimony: Permanent alimony is available in all long-term and/or moderate-term marriages. In short, if the parties’ marriage is greater than 17 years, then permanent alimony is the presumptive alimony flavor for the Court to award.
Permanent alimony can be awarded in short-term marriages, but “only under exceptional circumstances.” However, the phrase “exceptional circumstances” is not defined by the new statute, and thus it should be interesting to see what creative lawyers come up with to constitute “exceptional circumstances,” warranting permanent alimony in a Short-Term marriages. Historically, exceptional circumstances have been deemed to exist in situations where one spouse is permanently injured and/or suffers from a disease or illness rendering the spouse unable to provide for themselves moving forward.
The new amendments should alleviate some of the recurring issues and uncertainty in alimony awards in dissolution proceedings. It will be interesting to see what new trends evolve and issues present themselves under the new statute; however, at least the legislature has taken a step in the right direction to provide further guidance in this rather amorphous area of family law.
The attorneys at Burman, Critton, Luttier & Coleman are experienced in handling alimony and martial law cases. Should you have questions regarding your rights, please do not hesitate to contact our office.