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Types of Alimony and Considerations in Calculating Payments

A dissolution can mean a drastic change in the parties’ social situation and financial status. Family friends may take sides, and routines regarding vacations and holidays will change as will the time spent with children. If the household depended on two incomes, that can prompt the sale of the marital home in some cases and a move to a smaller home or rental unit. For a party who has fewer financial resources than the other spouse or who may not be working, the breakup can be frightening. To alleviate and remedy an unfair financial situation, alimony in a divorce case may be awarded.

Many of us have heard about alimony or its updated term “spousal maintenance,” and assumed that it refers to payments made from a well-off husband to his wife, a stay-at-home mom or spouse who took care of the home and children. Another conception of alimony is that it is designed for the recipient spouse to maintain the same or similar lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage. This may be true to some extent, but the award of maintenance, which can be ordered before the final decree, is more complicated.

Alimony can help the less advantaged spouse gain marketable skills or education or, if a spouse is disabled or aged, at least maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Either spouse may be the recipient. A court may order monthly payments over a period of time or a single, lump sum. The parties can also agree between themselves to an amount or resolve the matter in a prenuptial agreement, so long as it is valid.

Factors Used by the Court in Calculating Alimony—Florida Statute § 61.08

In determining the appropriateness and amount of alimony, the court considers the following factors:

  • Financial resources of the recipient spouse
  • Available sources of income to both spouses—rental income, stocks, annuities, retirement plans
  • Length of marriage
  • Time and expenses needed to acquire marketable skills or education
  • Age, physical and emotional condition of both parties
  • Each spouse’s contribution to the marriage—helping the other spouse’s career goals, time devoted to child care and household duties
  • Age and needs of minor children of the parties
  • Tax consequences
  • If adultery occurred and caused financial harm to the other spouse (spending lavishly on the non-spouse)

The court will consider what educational degrees the recipient spouse has, the parties’ separate and marital property and if exceptional circumstances exist where it could award permanent alimony in a short-term marriage. Essentially, the court looks at the parties’ income or what they could earn, their reasonable expenses and if the payments would restore a spouse to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.

Types of Alimony

Florida law actually has 6 types of alimony that a court may award. The longer awards are based on the duration of your marriage:

Short-term: less than 7 years

Moderate-term: 7 to 17 years

Long-term: More than 17 years

The 6 types of alimony are as follows:

  1. Temporary Alimony

Temporary alimony can be ordered while the divorce is pending and before more permanent or other financial arrangements are agreed upon or ordered. At times, a disadvantaged spouse will be experiencing financial difficulties in paying rent or the mortgage, food or utilities because of the sudden and drastic changes. A court will examine the monthly expenses, income and resources of both parties and award it accordingly. Any temporary alimony order is modifiable.

  1. Bridge-the-Gap Alimony

This type of alimony is also short-lived and can be ordered once the divorce is finalized. It is for a maximum time of 2 years and is for “legitimate, identifiable short-term needs” while the recipient spouse transitions to a life as a single person [Florida Statue § 61.08(5]. For example, if the home is to be sold or the recipient spouse is taking a class or classes for a degree or professional license, this type of alimony is to help with household finances until the classes or sale of the home is completed. You will have to identify specific needs and produce bills or expense statements for the court. An order for this type of alimony is not modifiable.

  1. Durational Alimony

This type of alimony has only existed since 2010. It may not last longer than the length of the marriage. It is for financial assistance and is awarded when permanent alimony is not appropriate. It is modifiable based on a showing of substantial change in circumstances.

  1. Rehabilitative Alimony

This is alimony designed to pay for a spouse’s education, training or work experience to acquire necessary job skills or the credentials needed to become marketable. The recipient spouse needs to submit a detailed plan including the objective of the training or education, tuition and expenses and time needed to get the degree, credential or experience. It may be terminated or modified based on failure to complete the plan, completion of the plan or other substantial changes in circumstances or if the recipient spouse remarries.

  1. Permanent Alimony

Permanent alimony is generally awarded in long-term marriages (more than 17 years) where there is a presumption in favor of it. The court will examine certain statutory factors in determining if it is appropriate and in what amount. For marriages of moderate duration (7 to 17 years), there is no presumption in favor of it, and the court must find clear and convincing evidence that it is appropriate or that any other form is not fair and reasonable under the circumstances. Permanent alimony in short-term marriages (less than 7 years) is rare and awarded only under exceptional circumstances such as a spouse becoming permanently disabled.

  1. Lump Sum Alimony

The parties may have agreed in a prenuptial agreement or during the dissolution proceedings to a one time, lump sum payment or to payments over several months to satisfy the alimony obligations. Though not common, the court may also order a lump sum payment. It is not modifiable.

Retain a competent family lawyer who can address your needs and help you determine what kind of alimony you may be entitled to or obligated to pay and the amount. You may be paying too much or receiving too little unless you have an experienced and knowledgeable family attorney on your side.