Written By: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
Alimony in a Florida divorce is defined by statutes for qualification purposes, but defined by judges and case law for purposes of determining the amount of alimony. However, there are questions in Florida divorces regarding men receiving alimony when they have been the homemaker and stay-at-home-dad during the marriage because, unfortunately, judges may still have gender biases. In Jacksonville area divorces, I have not yet seen a judge deny alimony to a man who met the statutory requirements showing a need for alimony; however, that does not mean it does not happen. Biases sadly play into every sector of family law though most of the biases are more subconscious than blatant. Men, however, are entitled under Florida Statutes, to receive the same consideration for alimony as women.
The reason this issue has arisen in 2012 is due to a recent appellate case, Gulledge v. Gulludge, 2D11-472 (Fla. 2nd DCA February 29, 2012). In this case, the couple was married for 30 years (long-term under Florida Statute 61.08) and the Wife was the primary breadwinner making approximately $60,000 per year. The Husband did not make more than $15,000 per year during the course of the marriage and at the time of divorce was making $9,000. The Husband also had a GED and a history of taking care of the children and doing the homemaking. In the divorce, the Husband was fairly and accurately requesting to receive permanent alimony (as available through Florida Statute if he can also show a need). The parties did not settle their case at mediation, so the case went for the judge to ultimately decide. The judge listened to the testimony and evidence and ruled in favor of the Wife finding that that Husband did not have a need for alimony and that he was underemployed.
The trial court’s decision was appealed and the appellate court reversed or overturned the trial court’s decision. The appellate court ruled that the Husband had demonstrated a need for alimony, but also agreed with the trial court, that he was under employed. However, no ruling by either the trial court or appellate court stated what the Husband should be earning with his GED and 30-year work history (e.g. minimal work with homecare and child keeping). The appellate court basically said that there was a need for the Husband to have alimony and that at least $1 of permanent alimony should be awarded in case the Husband could not find gainful employment, then he could have it modified.
Normally, in a divorce case of alimony, the parties present evidence to the court to demonstrate the alimony requesting party’s need for alimony and the perspective paying party’s inability to pay alimony. The court has to determine which expenses are legitimate and what fairly puts the parties in the right situation once the divorce is over. One of the things that be done to defeat alimony or permanent alimony is to show the educational background of the requesting party and his/her ability to work and what type of employment would be comparable to his/her skill set. In this case, the court did not make a ruling on these factors and the decisions seem to be based more on gender bias than on facts.
The question becomes if this can be applied to men requesting alimony, then why can men not use this case to defeat having to pay alimony to the Wife? Florida divorce laws, at some point, need to be overhauled so that such decisions cannot be so ambiguous for those going through a divorce. Regardless of gender, if you do not work full-time for 30-years, you contribute to the marriage by providing childcare, homemaking and the like, it should not matter what your gender is because Florida statutes already lay out the requirements for receiving alimony. The truth is that such matters may have to be heard by the Florida Supreme Court before we have a more definitive answer. However, in law, there is always and will always be a grey area and the lawyer and parties need to be prepared for the grey area since the court ultimately has the final decision.