How to Calculate Lifetime Alimony in Florida
By Elizabeth Rayne, J.D.
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An understanding of the factors involved in a determination of the type and amount of alimony that can be awarded creates more realistic expectations heading into court. In Florida, lifetime alimony, also known as permanent alimony, can be deemed appropriate in certain situations. While the parties can reach a mutual agreement on the issue of alimony, the court will look to specific factors, including financial need and ability to pay, in ordering lifetime alimony payment amounts. Further, modification or termination may be requested if there is a substantial change of circumstances.
In Florida, the award of alimony is not automatic in any divorce case; it is up to the discretion of the judge based on the specifics of the case. The state does not have a specific formula for calculating alimony. However, the general principle is that alimony awards are predicated on one party's need for support and the other's ability to pay.
Lifetime Alimony Considerations
Lifetime alimony, or permanent periodic alimony, may be awarded in some cases to a financially dependent spouse. It may also be awarded to balance out an unfair distribution of property. The court will consider a number of factors in determining whether permanent alimony is appropriate, including the duration of the marriage, the financial situation and earning capacity of each party, educational attainment and marketable skills, as well as other sources of income available. Additionally, the court will consider contributions made during the marriage, including situations where one party sacrificed a career to take care of the home. Where the court finds alimony appropriate, and the other party has the means, the disadvantaged party may be awarded lifetime alimony in order to maintain the standard of living that existed prior to divorce.
A major factor for awarding permanent alimony is the duration of the marriage. When a marriage is considered to be a "long-term" marriage, the court is more likely to award permanent support. Under Florida law, a short-term marriage is defined as one that lasted less than seven years, while a moderate-term marriage is one that lasted between seven and 17 years. A long-term marriage, which generally leads to permanent alimony, is one that lasted 17 years or more.
A divorcing couple has the option to reach their own agreement regarding permanent alimony instead of leaving the decision up to the court. The couple must submit the agreement to the court, which will accept it if it is found to be fair. However, the court has the discretion to modify the agreement if it finds the agreement unjust to one party.
Termination and Modification
Certain factors may allow a party to terminate alimony, or modify the amount. In Florida, alimony may be terminated or reduced when the receiving party remarries, cohabits with another person, or enters into an otherwise supportive relationship. Additionally, either party can request a modification of alimony if there is a substantial change in circumstances. The receiving party may request an increase in alimony, just as the paying party may request a decrease in alimony, if either of their financial situations changes significantly.
Elizabeth Rayne earned her J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2009, advising clients on issues ranging from employment law to nonprofit management. For two years, she served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."