What Could Florida's Alimony Reform Mean For Your Divorce Case?

If you and your spouse are child-free and make the decision to divorce, you may be rejoicing over the legal and financial freedom you see in your future. However, courts in some states can assess hefty alimony payments on the higher-earning spouse, keeping you and your ex-spouse financially intertwined for years to come. In Florida, one of the only states with no maximum cap on the number of years for which alimony may be awarded, some divorcing parties may find themselves on the hook for alimony for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, changes are coming to Florida's alimony laws, and permanent alimony may no longer be an option. Read on to learn more about Florida's alimony laws and how upcoming changes may affect your case.

How are the current Florida laws governing alimony structured?

Alimony, or spousal support, is an award of funds intended to help subsidize a recently-divorced individual's lifestyle without requiring the individual to seek government assistance, help compensate for years spent supporting the other spouse's career, and (in some cases) help the recipient receive education or training to find a job that will allow him or her to live independently. These spousal support payments are often awarded in situations in which one partner earns significantly more than the other, or the lower-earning partner spent many years out of the workforce at the higher earner's request.

In most states, this spousal support begins to phase out a few years after divorce. The rationale behind this gradual phasing out is that the temporary benefits allow the recipient to get back on his or her feet, establish a new household, and seek out job training or education to become self-supporting. However, in some Florida cases involving long-term stay-at-home spouses (or spouses who worked low-wage jobs to put the higher earner through school), permanent alimony may be awarded to the lower earner. Permanent alimony may require the higher earner to set aside more before retiring to ensure that these payments can be made even after ending gainful employment. As a practical matter, this can often mean that the alimony recipient never has to find a job after divorce, while significantly extending the amount of time the higher earner needs to work before retirement, or preventing retirement entirely.

What changes are coming to Florida's alimony laws?

Legislators have recently introduced a bill to reform these laws, and this bill appears to have significant support from both sides of the aisle. Under these new laws, the higher earner would be required to pay no more than 55 percent of his or her income toward alimony, and the duration of alimony payments could be no more than 75 percent of the length of the marriage. For someone married 20 years and divorced at age 45, this could mean paying alimony until age 60 at the most -- rather than until death or permanent disability.

If your divorce is still pending and you believe you may be expected to pay alimony for a period of time, it may be worthwhile to begin negotiating this alimony with your spouse's attorney or otherwise allowing the case to pend until this law is enacted. If a court orders an alimony award in your matter before permanent alimony is eliminated statewide, you may find yourself facing the prospect of permanent alimony -- and going back to court to have your alimony modified ex post facto could be both expensive and time-consuming.

You might also be able to avoid permanent alimony by demonstrating that your spouse has the capacity to support him- or herself or could easily be trained in a variety of areas. Courts are less likely to award alimony for extended periods of time in situations where the recipient is fully capable of supporting him- or herself but simply chooses not to do so. For more information on alimony law, find an attorney at http://www.paulmoorelaw.com.