WHAT IS ALIMONY
Alimony is court ordered support for another parent. It is similar to child support in the sense that it constitutes funds or other support for the parent who has demonstrated a need for it.
Alimony is governed by Florida Statute §61.08. There are various forms of alimony. A court could order one or more types of alimony depending on the circumstances. Examples are: 1) permanent periodic alimony (lifetime until remarriage, death of a party, or cohabitation in a supportive relationship); 2) bridge the gap; 3) temporary alimony (throughout the pendency of the litigation); 4) durational alimony (for a specific period of time); and 5) rehabilitative alimony (to allow a spouse to be brought back to the same level they were at typically before the marriage).
NEED / ABILITY TO PAY
Main Factors – According to Florida Statute §61.08, there are two main components to the court ordering alimony, before the court considers the other statutory factors. Those threshold determinations are need and ability to pay. Once a party requesting alimony satisfies this burden, then the court will consider the other factors that are set forth in that statute
Income – Each party’s respective income levels have a direct correlation with the amount of alimony. In order to see a more in depth analysis of the calculation of income, refer to the child support section above, which applies in this section as well even though the parties do not have any minor children. This would provide much guidance as to how income is calculated or factored in a particular case. So please read that section, if you have not done so already, even though your case may not have a child support component associated with it. The analysis is very similar and could provide great guidance for you to see how the court’s deal with the issue of income levels.
Need – Need is very easy to prove typically. If you ask anyone, they will always say they “need” more money. However, the court will look at the party’s particular situation, and really evaluate what their need really is. Need is not enough to just allow that person to have the basic necessities and nothing else. On the other hand, the issue of need is not meant to provide them with the same exact lifestyle that they have been accustomed to during the course of the marriage. The standard of living during the course of the marriage is definitely an important factor that the court will ultimately consider.
Ability to pay – Ability to pay is difficult in some situations when the bread-winner, who normally had no problem paying the bills when the parties both lived under one roof, is now living in a separate household with two different mortgage or rent payments, insurance, real estate taxes, electricity, water, etc. As a result, the payor’s ability to support the other spouse is not the same.
Discretionary Ruling – Unlike child support, which has specific guidelines and figures according to the statute, the actual amount of alimony is based on the judge’s individual discretion. This means that of the various judges who preside in most counties, they could theoretically all come up with different figures, depending on which judge hears the case. So, for example, let’s say that the wife earns only $40,000 per year, and the husband earns $80,000 per year. One judge could order $700 per month in alimony and another judge could order $1,500 per month in alimony, and neither decision would be disturbed on appeal as the appellate court will show much deference to the trial judge’s decision. The standard of review (the type of appellate review of a lower trial court decision) is what is considered an abuse of discretion. This means that as long as the trial judge did not completely disregard common sense and abuse their discretion, the judge’s ruling would be upheld on appeal (not reversed).
However, there is a certain point when the appellate court would consider it to be an abuse of discretion and would reverse the trial judge’s ruling. For example, if one judge ruled that a wife who was on disability and was unable to earn an income received zero in alimony when her husband is earning more than $150,000 per year, this would be considered an abuse of discretion.
At the other end of the spectrum, if the court were to order a husband who only makes $80,000 to pay the wife $5,000 per month, this too would be considered to be an abuse of discretion. Where the ordered amount would be more than 50% of the husband’s income, forcing him into poverty and allowing the wife to earn a substantial amount of money more than the husband at the end of the day, this would be considered to be an abuse of discretion as well.
Even if the alimony amount was within an acceptable range of $500 to $2,000 per month, I don’t know about you, but this type of swing could drive someone crazy. It would be very difficult to sleep at night not knowing what a court could do in a particular case. It is almost like flipping a coin sometimes. Imagine going into a car dealership and really liking a car that you want to purchase or lease. When the salesman asks you where you would like to see your monthly payments, imagine that the salesman tells you that your monthly payments will be somewhere between $500 to $2,000 per month and that they just need to flip a coin to pick one of those figures. Would you ever buy a car?
Just to put your mind at ease, it may not be so cut and dry in a court of law, but not having a real great of certainty could really affect your future.
The legislature has been trying to come up with a formula or a range to give some parties a sense of certainty of a more accurate projection based on the limits of alimony with an alimony figure on the low end and one on the high end.
It seems that having a range would give litigants more of an idea on what to expect if the matter were to proceed to trial, but we are not there yet. Until there is more guidance that can be reached, this can present a problem for either or both parties as there is a lot of uncertainty with the current law on this issue.
Therefore, it is crucial to have a lawyer who is really adept at being able to properly cross examine a spouse on the stand with regards to their figures.