Types of Alimony & Modification
- Trial Court’s Required Finding of Fact: In many cases, the court will investigate the situation thoroughly, hear arguments for and against a modification, and act accordingly. Sometimes the court can enter a “Supplemental Final Judgment to Modify Alimony,” which is an investigation and subsequent decision on changing alimony after the initial dissolution proceeding.
- Temporary Modification: Any alimony awarded is considered final until a court modifies it. Even if there is a modification pending, or a change otherwise put forward, the courts of Florida are unable to make any temporary change to alimonies.
- Needs Exceeding Ability to Pay: Sometimes the needs of the party receiving alimony increase, or the income of the party providing alimony increases. When this happens, it is sometimes appropriate to seek a modification of alimony terms.
- Financial Status of Payor’s Current Spouse: Sometimes, people attempt to circumvent their alimony agreements by living off of a new partner’s income (which, on paper, makes them appear to have far lower income). The court typically moves to address issues like this quickly and decisively.
- Modification of Permanent Alimony: Since it has an essentially unending duration, permanent alimony is allowed to change (unless both parties agreed to waive this right). Usually, however, circumstances have to be serious in order to warrant modification. Changes are not normally made based on something that will happen in the future — normally, there must be present circumstances that justify the alteration. The status of minors (such as their age and ability to provide for themselves) typically has no bearing on alimony, and is therefore rarely used as a legitimate reason for an alimony change. An example of a change that would likely be legitimate is a marked decrease in health by the recipient of alimony. This would be cause to increase the payments, since there is a clear, demonstrated need to do so.
- Modifiability of Lump Sum Alimony: Usually, this type of alimony is not modifiable, since it is designed to be a one-time affair. However, changes can be made to the manner in which the alimony is paid, even if no previous agreement existed.
- Modifiability of Rehabilitative Alimony: Since this type of alimony is designed to help one spouse “get on his/her feet,” rather than support him/her long-term, it is subject to termination or modification. When/if the receiver of alimony no longer needs the financial assistance, it may be reviewed and eliminated accordingly. However, in the opposite case, it sometimes can be converted to permanent alimony. This requires evidence, of course, which must be presented to the court, and must warrant the recipient’s need for permanent alimony. The court will usually look at the recipient spouse’s skills, education, health, and general progress toward independence in order to reach a decision on modification. Self-support, i.e. independence, is more than just income enough to survive. The initial alimony is based on the conditions which the former spouse (the one receiving the alimony) was accustomed to when they were married, before the divorce.
- Modifiability of Rehabilitative Alimony: The court must take into consideration the recipient’s ability to achieve the marital standard of living and the goal of rehabilitation. Rehabilitative alimony cannot be converted to permanent alimony just because the trial judge believes that permanent alimony would have been a more appropriate alimony in the first place. The court would have to apply proper modification principles in order for the alimony to take on a different form. If a court is considering changing rehabilitative alimony to permanent alimony, the court should also consider the original purpose of the award, whether it has been achieved, and if not, the likelihood of the person becoming self-sufficient. It is not proper or correct for a court to grant a conversion of rehabilitative alimony to permanent alimony while the party is still in the process of rehabilitation. The court and the parties involved need to wait until the party going through rehabilitation has either preformed in creating financial stability or was unable to complete the plan.
- Modifiability of Rehabilitative Alimony: A party who had a mental disorder known at the time of the initial agreement and is seeking a change from rehabilitative alimony to permanent alimony cannot use the mental disorder as a way of getting around the rehabilitation plan because it was known beforehand. If a mental disorder develops after the original final judgment, then that is an important substantial change that could modify rehabilitative alimony to permanent alimony. It is very important for the court to create a time frame, time limit, and set of goals, for the rehabilitation alimony plan at the original judgment and if it is modified, then at the time of modification.
- Modifiability of Bridge-The-Gap Alimony: Bridge-The-Gap alimony is made to give a former spouse an easier transition into financial life after marriage (much like rehabilitative alimony). It is normally made in lump-sum installments. This alimony normally occurs after a short-term marriage where the standard of living was much higher with a spouse than in a single life. Bridge-the-gap alimony is also a non-modifiable alimony, not extinguished when the payor passes away.
- Waiver of Rights to Modification: The right to alimony and the right to modification can be waived in an agreement of the parties. If the parties sign a irrevocable waiver to modification, no matter how devastating or unanticipated a circumstance, the court will be unable to modify alimony or support.
- Agreement/ Suspension of Alimony Obligation: If unemployment is involuntary and temporary in nature, the situation is not permanent in nature; so modification is not the correct approach. In cases where the payor is temporarily unemployed and seeking employment, the court does not have to modify payments, but should temporarily suspend payments. Temporary relief may be granted upon a showing of a provisional change in circumstances; it would be an error to permanently reduce alimony as a result of a temporary change.
- Reduction in Payor Spouse’s Income: A reduction in the payor spouse’s ability to pay does not automatically translate into a reduction in support. Alimony payments rest on the ability of the payor to pay as a whole. If the trial court is using an averaging method to calculate a reduction in alimony payments, the court must also have substantial evidence to justify the reduction in alimony payments.
- Increase in Payor Spouses Income: An increase in the payor spouse’s income may justify, but does not guarantee an increase in the alimony payments. If the court found that the payee was in need of an increase in support, then the court would probably seek to modify support and increase the payments. The need for additional alimony must be determined based on the prior standard of living that was established during the previous marriage, regardless of the post-dissolution increase of income by the payor.
- Retroactive Modification: A modification should be retroactive to the date of filing the petition seeking the modification if there is evidence that the payee had need and the payor had the ability to pay at the date of filing. A termination of alimony needs to be effective on the date of filing, when the basis is in existence because of the filing. If a foreign order for alimony is established in Florida and someone wishes to modify it, the modification can be retroactive to the date of filing because foreign judgments must be treated the same as domestic judgments. If a petition for final modification is pending, then the court does not automatically have the ability to award a temporary alimony pending the final judgment to the action.
- Modification of Alimony Arrearages: Support obligations that come from a court order dealing with a domestic violence case are vested rights granted to the payee from the payor. Past-due installments from the payor to the payee become the payee’s property rights and the payments cannot be retroactively modified.
- Jurisdiction to Modify a Foreign Alimony Award: A Florida court can enforce a spousal support order issued by a foreign court, but cannot modify it. The foreign court has continued exclusive jurisdiction over that order under the laws of that state.
All Aspects of Income Considered
In determining whether or not a change in circumstances will alter the alimony payments, income is not the only financial element reviewed. The court has the ability to review all aspects of one’s financial life, in determining reductions and increases in alimony.
In 2005, the Florida statutory law changed to address supportive relationships and their effects on alimony. The statute explains and describes factors for the court to consider. The court has the ability to reduce or terminate alimony if the payor can produce evidence that a supportive relationship exists. The nature and the extent of the relationship can be questioned by the court, so that the court can determine what to do with the alimony. The extent to which the obligee and the person in the relationship are engaging in acts as a married couple such as using the same last name, a common mailing address, and referring to each other as husband and wife, will be taken into account by the court. The amount of time that the couple has resided together, the extent to which the couple has pooled their assets or exhibited financial interdependence, whether or not they have purchased property together, and whether they have joined in support of children.
The court also believes that a supportive relationship is not seen as a marriage by the state without a marriage license, but the state recognizes that some relationships provide the economic support of a marriage. Alimony does not continue with a remarriage, and if a relationship will have the same economic support as a marriage, alimony should either be reduced or terminated.