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Debunking Eight Common Myths About Alimony in Florida Divorce Law

If you have long thought that alimony is a permanent condition of divorce, you might be surprised to learn that “permanent” alimony in Florida is the rarest form of spousal support that courts can award in a divorce. And, as of July 2023, the permanence of this category ended with the legislative passage of SB 1416. Among other things, the legislation limited the duration of permanent alimony to 75% of the marriage term for those married 20 years or longer. The legislation also eliminated court-ordered durational alimony awards for those married under three years.

Permanent alimony is just one of many common myths people believe about how courts award spousal support in Florida divorce cases. If you are facing divorce in Florida, you should be wary if friends and family offer you alimony advice or information, as it could be tinged with misinformation. To ensure the most favorable alimony conditions from your divorce, you should always seek the services of an experienced divorce lawyer, like those at Tallahassee’s Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law.

Let’s take a closer look at the eight most common myths and misconceptions people have about alimony in Florida divorce law.

Myth #1: Alimony is Automatically Granted in Every Divorce

Even before the new legislation, alimony was not an automatic divorce condition. Instead, and still, Florida courts consider whether an ex-spouse should be obligated to support the other spouse after the divorce is finalized, with the presumption that the spouse with higher earnings should help maintain the other spouse’s standard of living. In determining spousal support conditions, courts consider:

  • Marriage duration.
  • Any marital misconduct.
  • Respective spousal contributions to the marriage.
  • Marital standard of living.
  • The financial situation of respective spouses.
  • Age, physical condition, and mental health of the spouses.
  • Childcare needs that can prevent or limit a spouse from working.
  • Education and earnings potential of respective spouses.

The law also allows spouses to mutually agree on spousal support terms in advance of any court decision. If approved by the court, this can be a win-win outcome, as the spouse who needs support gets it, and egregious alimony terms don’t blindside the paying spouse.

Myth #2: Only Wives Receive Alimony

Florida divorce law makes no distinction between the spouses. The court is only interested in ensuring that a higher-earning spouse helps the other spouse maintain the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage.

Myth #3: Alimony Lasts Forever

We’ve debunked this one, but let’s examine the spousal support categories:

  • Temporary spousal support—designed solely to support the lower-earning spouse during the divorce process, with support ceasing when the divorce is finalized.
  • Bridge-the-Gap Support—with a two-year maximum duration, this alimony helps the lower-income spouse adjust to divorced life by providing support while they seek employment, wait for the sale of the family home, or otherwise gain their financial footing.
  • Rehabilitative Support—as the most common spousal support type, this alimony is designed to support the lower-earning spouse until they can become fully self-sufficient. The onus is on the spouse seeking this support to show the court how they intend to become self-sufficient, with details about timing, cost, education and employment goals, and other relevant factors.
  • Durational Support—provides support to the lower-earning spouse for a set period depending on the length of the marriage.

Courts have the option to award a combination of these alimony types and can determine how the payments are structured, including a lump sum payment if it can ensure that it will help the lower-income spouse become self-supporting.

Myth #4: Cohabitation Automatically Ends Alimony

While a former spouse’s cohabitation does not constitute grounds for automatically ending alimony, a paying ex-spouse can petition the court to modify or terminate spousal support if they can prove their ex is in a supportive relationship. Remarriage is also grounds for petitioning the court to modify or terminate spousal support.

Myth #5: Alimony is Tax-Deductible for the Payer; Taxable for Recipient

This myth used to be true. However, as of Jan. 1, 2019, federal tax law changed to eliminate the tax deduction for alimony payors and remove tax liability on alimony payments.

Myth #6: Alimony Orders Cannot Be Modified

As noted in Myth #4, alimony orders can be modified due to cohabitation, or remarriage, or a substantial change in circumstances of either party. Unless a marital settlement agreement on spousal support includes a waiver against modification, alimony can be modified or terminated due to unexpected, involuntary, and substantial changes in a recipient’s need for alimony or the payor’s ability to continue providing support. Modifications or termination cannot be made on bridge-the-gap or lump-sum alimonies.

Substantial changes courts may consider as justification for modifying or terminating spousal support include:

  • Health issues.
  • Long-term unemployment.
  • Substantial increase in income.
  • Retirement of the payor.
  • Recipient’s fraudulent activity in getting alimony.
  • Inheritance.
  • Winning the lottery

Myth #7: Alimony is Awarded Based Solely on Marital Misconduct

Alimony in Florida has long been awarded primarily based on need, though courts could consider the adultery of either spouse in determining alimony amounts. Under the new legislation, “[t]he court may consider the adultery of either spouse and any resulting economic impact in determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be awarded.”

Myth #8: Alimony Always Represents a Large Financial Burden

Any ex-spouse ordered to pay alimony will typically consider it a large financial burden. However, because courts are only trying to maintain the other spouse’s marital standard of living, the burden shouldn’t be too overwhelming. Temporary and bridge-the-gap alimonies are relatively short in duration, which limits their financial impact. Generally, the longer the marriage, the more significant the burden.

Secure Favorable Alimony Terms with Cowhey + Ward

Alimony is just one of several legal complexities that must be addressed during a divorce. An experienced divorce lawyer can help you navigate the legalities involved in determining spousal support and can help negotiate mutually agreeable alimony terms. For premium divorce guidance in the Leon County, Florida, area, turn to Adam Cowhey and Zach Ward of Tallahassee’s Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law. For optimal legal representation in any matter before the Florida Family Court system, contact us today at (850) 222-1000.

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