Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
In Florida, alimony is generally a factor in a divorce where one spouse makes considerably more income than the other. In cases involving alimony, such as things as length of the marriage, contributions to the marriage, marital lifestyle and the like are factors to consider when deciding what type of alimony should be awarded and for how long. However, what are the factors the court looks at later when a modification or change to alimony may be necessary?
In order to modify a prior family law court order, the requesting spouse must file an action with the court and establish, within the document, that there has been a substantial change in circumstance. A substantial change in circumstance can be anything from the receiving spouse won the lottery to the paying ex-spouse being demoted. Whatever the change, it has to be significant to warrant a modification to the prior order and typically, a substantial financial change is a 15% increase or decrease in income.
In 2003 a husband was ordered to pay alimony to his wife of 19 years. At the time of the divorce, the husband made $3,180 per month and the wife made $1,710 per month. At the time, it was expected that the wife’s income would not increase significantly. In the final judgment of divorce, the wife was awarded $400 per month in permanent alimony. This would have most likely been determined based on the length of marriage, contributions to the marriage (such as supporting husband’s career) and wife’s ongoing need for alimony (presumed at the time based on the fact that it was not expected for her income to increase), and the husband’s ability to pay $400 per month.
However, in 2010 the husband sought to modify his alimony obligation based on his present income of $3,418 per month and the wife’s income of $4,187, which increased to $4,867 by the time they went to trial on husband’s modification. The trial court ruled against the husband based on the fact that there was no evidence showing that the wife’s needs were met or had decreased on a monthly basis. Therefore, the trial court originally found that the husband was still required to pay alimony to his wife who was making approximately $2,249 per month more than the husband after alimony was paid.
The husband appealed the case to the Florida 4th District Court of Appeals in Koshi v. Koshi, 4D11-1506 (Fla. 4th DCA July 11, 2012). The appellate court found that there had been a substantial change in circumstance and ordered the case back to the trial court level. In addition, the appellate court ruled that on retrial, there should not be an award of more than nominal alimony to the wife, unless there were extreme circumstances presented to show that wife was in need of more income than the husband. Nominal alimony is basically awarding $1 so that if there is a substantial change in circumstance to the wife’s situation later, then she can petition for alimony again since it was originally meant to be permanent. This is typical in permanent alimony cases so that the court may review whether the needs of the receiving spouse have increased later in his/her life.
If you are going through a divorce or have previously divorced and have questions regarding alimony, then you should speak with an experienced family law attorney to better understand your rights and options.