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Fla Stat. §61.08(4) provides statutory guidelines for Florida courts to consider when evaluating importance of the duration of a marriage as a factor for alimony consideration.  In order to categorize the duration of marriages, courts look from the date the marriage began until the date one of the spouses filed for dissolution of marriage. According to the statute, short term marriages are marriages under seven (7) years, and long term marriages are all marriages that last longer than seventeen (17) years.  However, there is a “gray area” in the 10-year gap between these years. The marriages falling between the seven (7) to seventeen (17) year marriage lengths are known as marriages of “moderate duration.”

Categorizing the duration of a marriage is important. The court looks to a multitude of factors, found in Fla. Stat. §61.08 (2)(a-j), when considering the amount and the duration of an alimony award. A marriage categorized as a marriage of moderate duration is particularly important when considering an award of permanent alimony.

If a marriage is a long term marriage, as defined in the statutes, the marriage has with it a presumption in favor of a permanent alimony award. If after the court considers all other alimony factors and finds that no other alimony type would be proper, permanent alimony can be awarded. Whereas, a short term marriage would absolutely not have that same presumption. For a permanent alimony award in a short term marriage the court would have to find that exceptional circumstances exist to support such an award. Whereas, a moderate term marriage is open to a permanent alimony award also, but a higher standard of proof is necessary when awarding permanent alimony in cases of moderate duration marriages. Clear and convincing evidence as to the alimony factors must be presented to the court to prove  that the receiving spouse is entitled to alimony.

money-chainedWith many divorce cases also comes the notion of alimony. There are a number of different types of alimony in Florida, varying from permanent to rehabilitative. In some instances judges will award a party with “nominal alimony.” But, while you wont see this form of alimony in the statutes, you will see that this has developed in case law over the years. Nominal Alimony is not a form of alimony like rehabilitative, permanent, or durational, instead the nominal alimony designation is simply a space preserver to allow the receiving party to apply for a modification at a later date. Few states, including Florida, recognize this type of alimony award.

Nominal alimony differs from rehabilitative alimony because rehabilitative alimony is temporary for receiving spouse until he or she can get on his or her own feet. This is typically awarded in cases where the receiving spouse surrendered their ability to work during the course of the marriage in order to stay home and care for the kids or conduct other household duties. Rehabilitative alimony will temporarily support the receiving spouse until he or she is able to seek employment.

Whereas with nominal alimony, the court may order a spouse to pay a significantly small amount, as small as $1 a year, until that spouse is able to pay larger amount. This amount is not meant to support the receiving spouse, but instead preserves the receiving spouse’s right to receive alimony at a later date. It also reserves the court’s jurisdiction to revisit the issue of alimony should the paying spouse’s circumstances improve. The court may choose to award nominal alimony if it is likely that the paying spouse’s circumstances will change in the future and that this change would warrant alimony for the receiving spouse.  It is the court’s decision to determine whether or not to award nominal alimony.  If the court does not feel enough evidence exists to prove that the spouse’s financial circumstances will change in the foreseeable future, the court can choose not to award nominal alimony and instead enter an award for one of the statutory forms of alimony available.

Florida law allows for a court to grant various types of alimony awards. The types of alimony in Florida are lump sum, durational, temporary, rehabilitative, bridge the gap, and permanent. Naturally most people who would qualify as the recipients desire permanent alimony. But, simply desiring permanent spousal support is not alone sufficient grounds to be awarded permanent spousal support. The Florida courts consider a variety of factors prior to the entering of an alimony award. While there are a myriad of factors that contribute to the calculation of an alimony award, I typically begin my assessment of the possibility of alimony by asking my clients a few key questions.

I begin my assessment of the alimony possibility in a case by first looking at the needs of the possible recipient spouse, the ability of the obligated spouse to pay, and the length of the marriage. While permanent alimony can be granted by agreement of the parties in dissolution cases of short term, moderate term, or long term, the court tends to limit permanent alimony awards to marriages of long term. Florida marriages under seven (7) years are considered short term marriages, marriages seventeen (17) years and over are considered long term and the marriages that fall in the middle are considered either “gray area” or moderate marriages Fla. Stat. 61.08. While a marriage may fall into the moderate term may not be automatically open to the permanent alimony award, the court will consider the permanent alimony award in a moderate term marriage if the court has compelling reason to do so based on the factors used when considering an alimony award.

Permanent does not actually mean permanent. While some alimony awards are deemed non-modifiable a permanent alimony award does not always come with that level of protection. Some parties can choose to contract into a permanent non-modifiable alimony award, but if I had a client who was interested in agreeing to a permanent non-modifiable alimony award I would strongly suggest a reconsideration of that decision. Life changes, circumstances change, and those changes are often unpredictable. Due to the unpredictable nature of life the statutes allow for modifications of some alimony awards. While a permanent alimony award would secure the receiving spouse alimony until they marry, die, or cohabitate in a supportive relationship, it can also be modified in some circumstances. While that court may modify the permanent alimony award the court will take into consideration if the award was granted by a judge or entered into voluntarily by agreement by the parties. Florida case law, in some districts, supports the notion that modification of alimony that was entered into by agreement of the parties, rather than by a decision of the court, has a greater difficulty overcoming the burden of proving a substantial change in circumstances that was not contemplated at the time of the setting of the alimony.

Florida child custody laws require certain provisions and allocations to be listed in each child custody final order. These provisions related to the upbringing of the child, they contain rights of the child, responsibility, and timesharing allocations. However, many clients reach confusion regarding the difference between timesharing and parental responsibility. Under the Florida Family Law Rules these are two separate and distinct concepts. Parental responsibility involves the parents’ involvement in the major decisions in the child’s life including health care, school, child care, etc. In Florida there are three types of parental responsibility:

1) Sole Parental Responsibility- applies when only one parent has the right to control all aspects of the child’s life;

2) Shared Parental Responsibility- occurs when the parents must jointly make decisions on all parenting decisions; or