The Florida legislature recently revamped Florida’s alimony statute, Fla. Stat. 61.08. The new law took effect July 1, 2023. It makes broad changes regarding various aspects of alimony, including the criteria for modification. The most significant change is the elimination of permanent alimony in favor of a formula-based system that establishes the maximum length of time alimony can be paid and caps the amount of alimony. Attorneys and other wealth advisors in Florida should take these new alimony provisions into account when helping clients with their estate plans.
Forms of Alimony
Until now, Florida had four types of alimony: permanent, durational, rehabilitative and bridge-the-gap. While permanent alimony is now a thing of the past, the other three forms continue to exist. To determine which is appropriate, the court is required to consider a long list of factors, including the duration of the marriage, the parties’ incomes and earning capacity, the standard of living and the anticipated “needs and necessities of life for each party” after divorce. The court can award more than one type of alimony under appropriate circumstances.
Under the new law, durational alimony may only be awarded in a marriage of three or more years. Bridge-the-gap alimony remains available in a very short marriage but can only be awarded for up to two years.
How Long Does Alimony Continue?
The law caps the length of time for which durational alimony may be awarded based on a percentage of the length of the marriage. For a short-term marriage (less than 10 years), durational alimony lasts no more than 50% of the length of the marriage; for a moderate term marriage (10-20 years), durational alimony lasts no more than 60% of the length of the marriage; and for a long term marriage (20 or more years), durational alimony lasts no more than 75% of the length of the marriage. The caps can be extended only under “exceptional circumstances” based on certain factors listed in the statute.
Determining Amount of Alimony
The new law provides that the amount of durational alimony to be awarded is the amount of recipient’s “reasonable need.” However, the law caps the amount of alimony at 35% of the difference between the parties’ net incomes. The statute doesn’t address how the court is to determine what’s “reasonable.”
Net income is defined by reference to Fla. Stat. 61.30(2) and (3), which is the statute governing how income is calculated for purposes of child support. It provides a detailed list of what can and can’t be included as part of gross income. It includes income in all forms, including taxable and non-taxable.
Under the old law, income could be imputed to a spouse who’s unemployed, works part-time or who chooses to work at a low-earning job. Under the new statute, the court is required to attribute income to a voluntarily unemployed or underemployed spouse based on recent work history, occupational qualifications and prevailing earnings level in the community.
Factors to Consider
As with the former statute, there are number of factors enumerated in the new law that the court may consider in determining the “proper form or forms” of alimony. The court must assess all relevant factors in making its decision.
It’s also important to note that in some instances, the new law establishes only presumptions, not absolutes. At most steps in the analysis, the parties have an opportunity to convince the court why application of these presumptions would be unfair or inequitable.
Jodi Furr Colton is a partner at Brinkley Morgan