How to Modify Alimony Awards
Couples that divorce after many years of marriage typically present more complicated cases because the parties lives are more intertwined due to more extensive and diverse property ownership and reliance one party often places on the other for financial support. The law recognizes and responds to the disparity in income divorcing spouses commonly have by allowing judges to award alimony or spousal support to the party with fewer financial resources. The purpose of alimony is to keep the lower earning spouse at the same standard of living he/she enjoyed during the marriage. However, unless the parties were married for a long period of time, any alimony award is temporary and intended to stabilize one party until he/she can obtain stable income from another source. The amount and duration of an alimony award is set by individual judges, and consequently, the decision is subjective, but it cannot result in the receiving spouse having a greater income than the paying spouse. In fact, lawmakers have made several attempts to reform the alimony law in this state due to the subjectivity of alimony awards, but have been unsuccessful thus far. Florida law also recognizes that circumstances of the parties could change and render the payment and/or purpose of the alimony award obsolete. In these circumstances, it is possible to modify the award, and sometimes terminate it early. A discussion of when and how courts grant modifications and terminations of alimony awards will follow below.
When Alimony May Be Modified
It is worth noting as a preliminary point that the extent to which an alimony award is modifiable is tied to the terms of the divorce decree. If the decree only permits amount or duration changes, that is all a party can request. Further, some divorce orders state that the alimony is non-modifiable; if so, no changes are available. However, a court will only issue an order with that limitation if both parties consent.
The legal standard that a party must demonstrate before a court is authorized to modify an alimony award is that a party experienced a “substantial change in circumstances.” Note that a petition can ask for an increase, decrease, or termination of an award. While there is no fixed definition for what constitutes a substantial change, courts generally look for the following types of events in connection with petitions for alimony modifications:
- health issues;
- long-term unemployment;
- large raises;
- a large inheritance;
- retirement by the paying party; or
- remarriage by the receiving party.
Because Florida law allows for permanent alimony awards, there is a provision that permits a reduction or termination of this support if the paying party can show the receiving party is in a relationship that includes financial support from a new partner. In order for a supportive relationship to exist, the parties must live together and not be related by blood or law. Further, in order to ascertain the nature of the relationship, the court looks at a number of factors, including:
- how long the couple have lived together;
- the extent of asset pooling between the couple;
- if the couple jointly acquired personal or real property; and
- if the couple provided support for the children of one another, regardless of an legal obligation.
Divorce Attorneys Can Help
Figuring out if you have sufficient grounds to ask for a modification of alimony is not an easy determination to make because the law is primarily based on the past judicial decisions. However, an experienced divorce attorney will know the tendency of judges on this issue and can guide you toward a viable solution for your situation. The Fort Lauderdale law of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. staffs attorneys with years of experience in divorce-related matters, and they are available to help you. Contact the office for a free consultation.