The Florida Senate and House of Representatives have drafted a proposed bill that will substantially change Florida alimony laws if enacted. These changes weigh heavily in favor of the person who is or would be obligated to pay alimony (the “Payor”). The new bill also limits the court’s discretion in the amount and duration of alimony that would be awarded.
If passed, the new law creates a mathematical formula, called guidelines, to calculate alimony, including its duration and amount, which do not exist under current law.
Calculating the Amount of Alimony
In calculating the amount of alimony, the guidelines incorporate the number of years of marriage and the difference between the monthly, gross income of the parties. There are proposed guidelines that calculate both the upper and lower end of an alimony award.
To calculate the higher amount of alimony, multiply 0.15 by the number of years the parties were married x the difference between the parties’ gross income
To calculate the lower amount of alimony, multiply 0.020 by the number of years the parties were married x the difference between the parties’ gross income
Currently, while child support amounts are mathematically calculated using guidelines, alimony is not. Alimony is simply based on one parties’ financial need for alimony and the other party’s financial ability to pay, and this is based on the standard of living of the couple during the marriage. This current method gives the court great discretion in determining what amount of alimony to award.
Calculating the Length of Alimony
Under the new bills, the proposed alimony guidelines would calculate both an upper and lower end for the length of the alimony award.
The lower end is the number of years of marriage multiplied by .25
The higher end is the number of years of the marriage multiplied by .75
The current law breaks down the length of marriage into brackets: A marriage lasting 7 years or less is considered a short-term marriage; a marriage lasting between 7 and 16 years is a mid-length marriage; and a marriage lasting over 17 years is considered a long term marriage in which there is a presumption in favor of permanent alimony (permanent alimony meaning until the other party dies or remarries).
Based on these brackets, the current law has established different forms of alimony, such as bridge-the-gap alimony, most common in short term marriages, which is not to exceed 2 years; durational alimony, which cannot exceed the length of the marriage that is often seen in mid-length marriages and permanent alimony which is often seen in long term marriages.
Other changes by the proposed bill
- Bridge-the-gap, durational, rehabilitative and permanent alimony would be eliminated, but temporary alimony would remain
- Only marriages of 20 years and above would be considered long term
- The proposed bills have an extensive definition of “income,” which includes “potential income”
- There is an alimony cap, in which the Payor is not required to pay more than 55% of his/her net income, where under existing law, there is no such cap
- The financial circumstances and income of a new spouse are irrelevant and not considered in any alimony modification. Currently they can be considered in certain aspects.
- The bills make “cohabitation” much easier to prove, which in turn allows a reduction or termination of alimony even if the parties don’t live together, but are in a supportive relationship
- The new bills would allow termination or reduction of alimony when the Payor reaches federal retirement age
- The new bills would award the party’s attorney’s fees to be paid if the other party unnecessarily promotes or defends against an alimony action. Currently, attorney’s fees are usually awarded regardless of which party brings the court action—they are based on the financial need of one party and the financial ability of the other party to pay
Overall, the new bills discourage reliance on alimony and encourage a dependent party to seek employment. It is also realistic in that it specifically acknowledges that the parties’ standard of living enjoyed during the marriage will decrease subsequent to the divorce, where previously the goal was for both parties to sustain the same standard of living they enjoyed while they were married, which is often done at the expense of the party paying alimony.
If this law is passed, it seems as though alimony will be more black and white and will allow more divorce cases to settle outside of court without the need for trial.
If successful, these bills would become effective October 1, 2015 and apply to cases in existence at that time. The law wouldn’t apply to already existing alimony awards and can’t be the basis to reopen or modify a case.
For more information about Florida alimony laws, contact Mindi Lasley, an experienced alimony attorney in Tampa, Florida.