Divorce cases in Florida often have an alimony component, which husband and wife do not always understand. As a Jacksonville divorce lawyer, I often educate my clients on how alimony is determined and calculated based on their case facts and whether the alimony can be changed or modified in the future. Florida does not have a formula for divorce, but the Florida statutes along with prior Florida cases provide a format by which alimony may be determined. For example, alimony may be awarded in a divorce case where the parties have been married for 20 years and the wife has not worked full-time in 15 of the 20 years because she has been homemaker, mother and wife. If the husband makes roughly $150,000 per year and the division of assets still leaves the wife with a need to pay her bills and living expenses, then the court may award the wife permanent periodic alimony (i.e. permanent and paid monthly) if the husband has the ability to pay, which he most likely would based on the above example. The question then becomes, if alimony is awarded and the husband loses his job, then how does that impact his financial obligation to pay alimony? Can alimony be modified? The simple answer is yes, but a substantial and involuntary change in circumstance must be presented to the court along with new financial information.
Recently, a Florida appellate court heard a case involving a husband that made $175,000 per year at the time of the divorce and the wife was awarded $5,000 per month in spousal support after all necessary factors were determined by the court. The husband later was laid off from his job and eventually found a new job that paid $66,000. The husband attempted to modify his alimony payment based on his involuntary change in circumstance. However, the trial court found that he should have saved during the time that he knew he was getting laid off (approximately 16 months) in order to pay for his alimony obligation. Also, the trial court found that the husband was using his savings to pay his living expenses while he looked for a new job and the court found that he also could have used his savings to pay his alimony obligation. The trial court ultimately reduced his alimony to $3,500 per month, which constituted 81% of his net income. The appellate court heard the case and reversed the decision based on prior Florida case precedents.
The appellate court basically found, based on Florida law, that the husband could not pay an amount of support that does not allow him to support himself. This goes to the basic ability for alimony, which is not only a need for alimony, but an ability to pay. Second, the appellate court found that the husband could not be required to incur debt in order to pay alimony. Also, the appellate court found that the husband could not be required to deplete or sell his assets to pay alimony to the wife. Furthermore, they found that the husband did not have an obligation to save money to meet his future alimony obligations.
When a case is reversed by the appellate court, the case is then transferred back to the trial court that originally heard it with direction from the appellate court, which is called a remand.