Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
As a Jacksonville divorce lawyer, I often educate my clients on the fact that alimony in Florida is modifiable given a substantial change in circumstance, unless agreed by the parties as nonmodifiable. Inflation is an involuntary change in the economy and impacts living expenses, including utilities, food prices, etc. As such, inflation may impact the amount of alimony necessary to sustain an individual from day to day. When permanent alimony is awarded, such as in long-term marriages (greater than 16 years of marriage) or in cases where a spouse has a permanent disability and the ex-spouse has an ability to pay alimony, inflation may be grounds for an alimony modification. In Florida, to modify alimony, there must be a substantial change in circumstance. For alimony modifications due to inflation, there are more steps that must be proven.
Inflation has been warranted to create a substantial change in circumstance because it decreases the value of a dollar. So an alimony award in 1990 would not spend the same in 2012 and the courts recognize this issue. However, the courts also recognize that a change in circumstance cannot just be the impact inflation has on the value of a dollar, but on the impact that change has on the individual seeking the modification. Since alimony is designed to provide support for a spouse to have shelter, clothing, food, and other necessities, the receiving party has to show the court how inflation has made it more challenging to fulfill those needs.
While some people believe that alimony is designed to keep the parties in the same lifestyle they had during the marriage, lifestyle equality is subjective and not objective to the parties. Lifestyle equality to that of the marriage is often impossible because it is more expensive to have two households than to have one. Therefore, there will most likely be a change in lifestyle from married to single life. Also, modifying alimony based on inflation should be based on the needs to be met and not being able to do so, such as not having money for a utility bill. A modification of alimony should not be based on whether inflation has rendered it difficult to go to the spa everyday, as you once did.
Therefore, the courts in Florida have actually established rules on modifications of alimony due to inflation. It should not be a surprise that the court has found that a modification for inflation is proper when a spouse shows that costs associated with daily living expenses have inflated to a point where alimony no longer attributes enough to pay for a reasonable expenses (i.e. necessary car repairs, utility bills, etc.) as in Bedell v. Bedell, 583 So.2d 1005 (Fla. 1991). Basically, the court found that where inflation impacts the dire needs of the requesting spouse, then an upward modification is proper. However, in a recent case, the appellate court found that an upward modification of alimony due to inflation is not necessary when the dire needs of the requesting party are being met, but the lavish lifestyle needs are not, Silverman v. Silverman, 3D10-2682 (Fla. 3rd DCA May 2, 2012). In Silverman, the ex-wife requested an upward modification of alimony due to inflation and showed her need for the increase was due to her inability to keep a live-in maid or go on numerous trips annually. The trial court initially granted the request, but was overturned by the appellate court that referenced dire needs versus lifestyle. The opinions lay the ground work for showing a substantial change in circumstance for warranting a modification.