Alimony Reform Enacted in Florida
Florida has just joined the cadre of states that provide a mathematical calculation for alimony.
The other states that have a mathematical calculation for alimony include California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The phenomenon of state legislatures adding alimony calculations is a slow-moving trend, but nonetheless one to watch, as several of the states’ laws are new in the past decade.
The Florida alimony law has been years in the making, having twice in the past 20 years reached the governor’s desk, only to have the governor veto it. But, in this case, the third time was the charm.
The Family Law section of the Florida Bar has hailed this achievement as commonsense modifications to the current alimony laws. And it has also won the blessing of both the mens’ rights groups and the women’s rights groups.
As an aside, the law also incorporates a major change to parenting and timesharing of minor children, by creating a rebuttable presumption that equal time-sharing is in the best interest of the children.
This post focuses on the alimony calculation under the new law in Florida.
Categories and Duration of Alimony
One thing the new law does not do is simplify things.
Unlike every other state that has an alimony calculation, the Florida calculation does not give a single number at the end. The new law leaves the practitioner with a range of alimony types, a range of durations, and a range of alimony amounts of each type.
Let’s dig in!
The law specifies three types of alimony, which it labels “Bridge the Gap,” “Rehabilitative,” and “Durational.”
Bridge-the-gap alimony may be awarded to provide support to a party making the transition from being married to being single. Bridge-the-gap alimony assists the party with identifiable short-term needs. The duration of bridge-the-gap alimony may not exceed 2 years.
Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to assist a party to establish the capacity for self-support through redevelopment of skills, credentials, education, or experience necessary to obtain appropriate employment. Rehabilitative alimony may not exceed 5 years.
Durational alimony is intended to provide a party with economic assistance for a set period of time. An award of durational alimony may not exceed 50% of the length of a short-term marriage (a marriage less than 10 years), 60% of the length of a moderate-term marriage (a marriage between 10 and 20 years), or 75% of the length of a long-term marriage (a marriage duration of 20+ years). The table below shows some examples of marriage durations and durational alimony maximum terms:
|Marriage length (years)||For durational alimony, the maximum duration of term alimony (years)|
|3 years||1.5 years|
|9 years||4.5 years|
|10 years||6 years|
|19 years||11.4 years|
|20 years||15 years|
|30 years||22.5 years|
Is “Permanent” Alimony Really Gone?
Permanent, or lifetime, alimony is relatively rare in any state under today’s alimony laws.
While Florida has eliminated the term “permanent” from the new law, under exceptional circumstances the court may extend the term of durational alimony – and we do not yet know how far.
The statute provides that the court may extend the length of durational alimony when a party proves by clear and convincing evidence that alimony should be extended. And so there is room for judicial discretion.
But when alimony beyond the statutory limits is considered, the statute shifts the burden of proof from the alimony payer to the alimony recipient, who must prove that alimony is needed for a term that exceeds the maximum.
While the law is unclear about just how long durational alimony can be extended, it does spell out the factors a judge must consider. These are:
1. The extent to which the obligee’s age and employability limit the obligee’s ability for self-support, either in whole or in part.
2. The extent to which the obligee’s available financial resources limit the obligee’s ability for self-support, either in whole or in part.
3. The extent to which the obligee is mentally or physically disabled or has been diagnosed with a mental or physical condition that has rendered, or will render, him or her incapable of self-support, either in whole or in part.
4. The extent to which the obligee is the caregiver to a mentally or physically disabled child who is common to the parties, regardless of whether the child has attained the age of majority.
Maximums Under the New Alimony Rules
With respect to durational alimony, the statute specifies that a judge should award an amount that is required to meet the recipient’s needs, but not more than 35% of the difference between the recipient’s net income and payors’ net income.
The statute specifically allows for a combination of the forms of alimony. So one could see an award of both durational and rehabilitative alimony, for example.
The statue also provides that “the award of alimony may not leave the payor with significantly less net income than the net income of the recipient, unless there are written findings of exceptional circumstances.”
We read this to mean that the sum of all three types of alimony may not leave the payor with significantly less net income than the recipient has.
So there are two maximums to apply:
- First, the maximum of durational alimony (35% of the difference in net incomes);
- Second, the maximum of all three types of alimony combined (not leaving the payor with significantly less net income than the recipient).
There have been cases on what percent of the payor’s net income is excessive, and they seem to coalesce around the 60% figure. (Yeakle v. Yeakle, 12 So. 3d 884 (2009) (leaving payor with 35% of net income for living expenses was abuse of discretion); Lambert v. Lambert, 955 So.2d 35 (2007) (error to award sixty percent 60% of payor’s income); Squindo v. Osuna-Squindo, 943 So.2d 232 (2006) (reversing permanent alimony award totaling 70% of payor’s net monthly income); Vega v. Vega, 887 So 2d 882 (2004) (award of alimony totaling 80% of the payor’s net income and after two years dropping to 64% of the payor’s net income was excessive)).
However, we have not found cases on the question of what percent of the payer’s net income is “significantly less” than the recipient’s.
In setting the amount of alimony, Florida law continues to direct the judge to consider several non-numeric factors, including the following:
- The standard of living during the marriage.
- The economic effects of adultery.
- The true need of the recipient.
- The ability of the payor to make alimony payments.
The most important considerations remain the need and ability to pay.
If the parties fail to demonstrate the need for alimony or the ability of the payor to make alimony payments, then, no alimony will be awarded, regardless of the formula.
And, in any event, the formula just provides a maximum, not a sum-certain.
When does the New Florida Alimony Law Take Effect?
The alimony statute applies to every case that is pending or filed after July 1, 2023.
So, if the case has not reached a final judgment, is an active case, or is unresolved as of July 1, 2023, the new law is applicable.
The law was passed on June 30, 2023, and it is applicable to all cases pending as of July 1 (the next day), even if the case was in the middle of trial or awaiting final judicial resolution.
Family Law Software Alimony Calculator
The Family Law Software alimony calculator goes through a multi-step process, reflecting the multiple allowable maximums.
First, we calculate net income for the purpose of calculating alimony.
This is the same as net income for child support, but without considering alimony. In order to make this calculation easier to follow, we show the actual support net income amount, then add back (or subtract out) the alimony that was used to arrive at that number.
Next, we figure the combined maximum of all types of alimony, which is the amount which makes the payer’s income “significantly less” than the recipient’s.
Since “significantly less” is not defined, we allow the user to specify what percentage would make the payer’s income “significantly less” than the recipient.
We conservatively default to 0%. That is, we calculate the amount that causes the payor’s income to just break even with the recipient’s, after the alimony payment. But the user can allow alimony to increase over the breakeven amount, by specifying the percentage to be 5% less, 10% less, or whatever percentage the user deems is “significant.”
We should mention that the alimony calculation is done before child support is figured.
So if the support payor is the same as the alimony payor, as is often the case, then if the parties’ incomes are the same after alimony alone, it will be the case that, after child support, the payer’s net income will be substantially less than the recipient’s.
Next step: Once we have calculated the maximum of all forms of alimony combined, we calculate the maximum of durational alimony. (The software also calculates the maximum term of durational alimony, based on the length of the marriage.)
You can specify multiple tiers for durational alimony (e.g., $1,000 for the first year, $750 for the 2nd year, and $500 thereafter).
You can also specify start and stop dates for the other two types of alimony.
Family Law Software will add it all up and show you the annual combined alimony payments in each year.
Family Law Software is your solution for complete and accurate alimony calculations, no matter how simple or how complex the case.
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More Helpful Resources: Family Law Software Blogs:
Understanding Alimony: https://blog.familylawsoftware.com/2023/03/27/understanding-alimony/