Lawmakers in Florida are wrestling with the question of whether to do away with permanent alimony payments in the state, limiting the circumstances under which former spouses could obtain financial support – separate from what is provided to the children – in a divorce decree.
Supporters call alimony a “life sentence,” though the measure is staunchly opposed by the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar Association.
Here in Indiana, our Highland divorce lawyers are well aware that divorcees don’t have the option of alimony, in the traditional sense.
What we do have is spousal support, which is also referred to as spousal maintenance. Simply put, it is a means by which one spouse may collect monetary payments from another. The goal of spousal maintenance payments is to aid the lower-earning spouse in maintaining a “reasonable” standard of living, and further to become self-sufficient both during and after a divorce.
So far, it may sound like any other alimony system. However, the courts are greatly limited in terms of deciding who is eligible for support payments. There are only three circumstances under which the court is allowed to award spousal maintenance payments. Those are:
- A finding by the court that one spouse is mentally or physically incapacitated in such a way that it materially impacts that spouse’s ability to be self-sufficient. In these cases, the spousal support has the propensity to continue for the length of the incapacity. The court could choose to alter the order at a later date.
- The court makes a determination that one spouse doesn’t have enough property, even after the division of marital property, in order to provide for his or her needs AND that spouse has custody of a child who suffers a mental or physical disability that makes it impossible for that spouse to work. In these cases, the judge can order support payments for any length of time that the judge deems appropriate or necessary.
- Lastly, a judge can award support payments for up to three years if it is determined that, after weighing each spouse’s education, earning capacity, and the interruption of education or career to care for children, that an order of support is appropriate. Consideration must be given to how long the supported spouse will need in order to be adequately retrained and obtain work. This is called rehabilitative support. Three years is the maximum amount of time that this type of support can be offered.
Although these parameters are quite strict, there is no ceiling or even any specific guidelines for how much support may be awarded. That means it will be up to the judge to factor in the kind of lifestyle these individuals had, whether the the supported spouse might be able to work and earn money even while retraining, whether there would be any significant tax consequences, as well as a number of other considerations.
It’s important to note that if the supported spouse remarries or dies, those payments will end automatically.
Otherwise, it can be pretty tough to get one of these orders altered once they are in place. Usually a chance would require dramatically-changed circumstances. For example, if the paying spouse loses his job and has no ability to pay, or if the supported spouse receives a sizable inheritance.
Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary, Hammond and Calumet City. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
Bills to kill permanent alimony moving along in Florida, March 18, 2013, By Christine Jordon Sexton, South Florida Business Journal
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