Florida legislators are again proposing significant reforms to Florida’s alimony law. There is a new bill pending in the Florida legislature: Senate Bill 1796 (2022), which seeks to reform laws related to alimony and bifurcation of issues in a dissolution of marriage proceeding. As of January 26, 2022, it is still under review in the Senate Chamber.
Alimony is a monetary amount, ordered by the court, that one spouse pays to the other spouse for purposes of support and maintenance. Alimony can be ordered by the court during a divorce proceeding, as temporary relief, or after the parties are formally divorced, as a final order. There are five types of alimony which can be awarded by the court, which include: temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or permanent alimony. Each of these types of alimony vary in their purpose and duration. In determining an alimony award, the court considers the financial need of the spouse seeking alimony, the ability of the other spouse to pay, and other relevant factors enumerated under Florida law.
Under the proposed bill, there are several significant changes to keep an eye on. Listed below you will find a few of the most significant proposed changes, as they pertain to alimony, explained.
Senate Bill 1796 proposes an elimination of permanent (lifetime) alimony. This would leave temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, and durational forms of alimony as the only available options to the court. Currently, permanent alimony is generally sought or granted in circumstances in which a long-term marriage is present. Permanent alimony provides for the needs and necessities of life as they were established during the marriage. This is awarded to the party who lacks the financial ability to do so following the dissolution. Under Florida law, a long-term marriage is generally qualified as a marriage lasting 17 years or longer. There are circumstances in which a dissolution case involving moderate length marriage, (7-17 years), or a short term marriage, (less than 7 years), can incorporate permanent alimony. However, they are less likely and require additional findings in comparison to a long-term marriage. Senate Bill 1796 would significantly change the landscape of alimony claims if passed.
Factors of Consideration in Alimony Claims: Supportive Relationships
Currently, under Florida law, there are several factors a court can look toward in determining whether to award alimony and how much to award. However, while the court can look to the existence of a “supportive relationship” in determining whether an existing alimony claim should be reduced or terminated, it does not factor into the court’s initial determination of alimony. Senate Bill 1796 proposes that the concept of a supportive relationship be expanded to allow consideration of such when the court is first setting an alimony award. It proposes that the criteria defining a supportive relationship at the time of dissolution would be the same as a later modification. However, it does add that the court may consider engagement as evidence of a supportive relationship. This would surely change the capacity of litigation across the board by including additional witnesses, evidence to be discovered, and claims to alimony generally.
Additional Changes to Watch
The proposed changes extend into some of the other forms of alimony, specifically, in addition to standards and presumptions under the law for alimony as a whole.
- Rehabilitative alimony is proposed to be limited to the lesser of 5 years or the limit of durational alimony.
- Durational alimony would be limited in the following capacities:
- May not be awarded for a marriage of less than 3 years;
- Is limited to 50 percent of the term of the marriage if the marriage was between 3 and 10 years, 60 percent if between 10 and 20 years, or 75 percent if the marriage lasted more than 20 years. These time limits would be extended should the obligee (the recipient of alimony) be disabled or a full time caretaker of a totally disabled child of both spouses (but only so long as the obligee qualifies);
- May not exceed the lesser of the obligee’s reasonable need or 35 percent of the difference between the parties’ net incomes.
- The bill would create a new presumption under the law that both parties will have a lower standard of living after the dissolution of marriage. This would change the current way the court evaluates alimony claims in assessing the amount needed to sustain a standard of living obtained during the marriage. Additionally, under the bill, no alimony may be awarded to a party whose net income exceeds the net income of the other party. This would create additional limitations on the court’s judgment in a dissolution proceeding.
- Multiple changes regarding the requirement of an obligor (the payor of alimony) to obtain life insurance to secure the award of alimony and the effect of retirement on alimony are also scattered throughout Senate Bill 1796. In long-term marriages or divorces over 50, especially, these could become significant in how the court rules regarding a final alimony award.
Understand the Details and Stay Updated
With changing times and circumstances, the law is set to continue evolving and changing as time goes on. It is important to keep up with the changes in laws that may affect you now, or down the line. However, should the laws change, it is more important to secure an advocate that understands the details and stays updated as to how those changes affect you.
The Rice Law Firm’s Family Division has handled many alimony determinations in dissolution of marriage proceedings and many alimony modifications. Our attorneys have served the Daytona Beach, Volusia County, and Flagler County areas since 1986 and guided many clients through alimony matters.
Contact us to learn more about how current Florida law affects your circumstances and what could change moving forward. Contact us today at our Daytona Beach location at 386-310-2914.