In a Florida Divorce, How Do Incomes Factor Into Alimony?

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

1361061_designing_on_a_tablet.jpgWhen dealing with Florida alimony in divorce cases, often as a Jacksonville divorce lawyer, I find it helpful to review cases to prepare not only for trial, but also to prepare my client for what may happen. Understanding the legal changes that occur not only by the Florida legislature, but also by the courts can be helpful to clients because cases actually use real people in real scenarios. So, much like providing examples of what may happen, the courts actually show us what does happen when A and B occur.

Florida alimony is based on a number of factors, including the length of the marriage, the contribution of each spouse during the marriage, the incomes of the parties, the potential earning capacity of the spouses, educational/work experience, need, ability to pay and much more. Since there are so many factors that the court may look to in its determination of awarding alimony, understanding the law and how it may be applied can be very helpful to both the lawyer and the client.

As a divorce lawyer, I think my job is to educate my client on the possibilities of success and failure within the case. The truth is that no one case, though similar, is exactly like another. Different people lead to different results. Therefore, keeping an open mind to the fact that family law is filled with grey, it is helpful to actually use real-life and real-court examples.

For example, in a Florida appellate court, the court made a ruling regarding the imputation of income in determining a need for alimony. In Beasley v. Beasley, 36 FLW D2680 (Fla. 4th DCA December 7, 2011), the court was faced with a case regarding a husband and wife who were married for 21 years and had no kids together. The Husband was making $400,000 per year at 66 years of age and the Wife was earning $25,000 per year at age 50. During the divorce proceedings, the marital property ($9 million) was equally divided between the spouses. Given the length of the marriage was long-term, the Wife requested permanent alimony, but was awarded $4,000 for 12 months as a bridge-the-gap alimony, to get her from married to single life. The court did so because the judge ultimately decided that the Wife could make $50,000 per year, if she tried. On appeal, the appellate court found that it was reasonable to think the Wife could earn $50,000 per year given that she had a degree from Princeton and two postgraduate degrees. Also, the appellate court found that there was enough evidence shown at the trial to prove that Wife had made little to no effort to make the $25,000 per year and if she used her “executive business” experience, then she could be vastly more profitable with her business.
Ultimately, the court’s ruling was upheld and the court determined how an imputation of income can look if a party/spouse is not actually working towards their actual abilities.
Understanding the outcome is important because basically, the case is determining that ones income is not based solely on their past work experience and income, but whether the individual is, in fact, using his/her talents appropriately to earn a living. Essentially, the court made it clear that if a spouse is working below his/her means, then the court can award less alimony or alimony for a decreased period of time since that spouse does not actually have an ongoing need for support. However, bare in mind that the Wife in this case did have $4.5 million in other assets as well, which the court determined could be used towards her expenses.

If you are going through a divorce, then you should speak with an experienced family law attorney regarding your rights and options.