Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
When first meeting with divorce clients in my Jacksonville and Ponte Vedra, Florida offices I often get detailed information. The details that ultimately are important in the first meeting include but are not limited to, the date of marriage; the incomes of the parties; the work history of each spouse during the marriage; and a list of assets and debts, including the marital home, it’s value and monthly mortgage payment. While clients may want to address the reason they are discussing divorce, I try to focus on the things that are related to what can happen if they were to proceed with divorce. I find this tactic helpful in educating clients so that they understand such as things as why she/he will most likely need to pay alimony to the other spouse. That seems to be the most common concern and one that I like to address as soon as possible.
So, why might you be responsible for paying alimony to your spouse? In Florida, alimony is determined based on factors of length of marriage, contribution to the marriage, financial needs, financial ability to pay alimony, and a few other details. In order to provide a clearer picture of the, “why,” I will provide some examples of what a marriage may look like:
Example 1: Ann comes in needing a divorce from Ben. Ann and Ben have been married for 30 years and have fallen out of love and have been living as roommates for the past 5 years. Ann works as the VP of Sales at her company and makes $150,000 per years. Ben works as a teacher and makes $45,000 per year. Ann and Ben own their home and have some, but not a lot of marital debts aside from the home. Ann is willing to sell the home, or continue living in it and pay the mortgage until it is no loner under water and then she will split the equity with Ben. Ben has been having health issues and will not be able to work much longer. In this situation, given the discrepancy in their incomes and Ben’s need for financial assistance, Ann will likely have to pay Ben alimony. Given that they have been married for 30 years, this alimony will more than likely be permanent and may be modified later given a substantial change in circumstance.
Example 2: Carl wants to divorce Diane. Carl and Diane have been married for 13 years. Carl works as a manager and makes about $75,000 per year. Diane as been a homemaker and taken care of their three kids who are 5,8 and 10. Carl and Diane own their home and have some debts that have accrued. Diane wants to keep the house because she wants to provide stability for the kids. In this situation, the length of the marriage does not generally mean that Carl will pay permanent alimony. However, Diane will likely have an argument for periodic durational alimony, which means alimony on a monthly basis for a set period of time, possibly seven years. Alimony would be determined before establishing child support since alimony is considered income to Diane.
Example 3: Ellen and Frank want to divorce. They have been married for 2 years. Frank makes $30,000 per year and Ellen makes $40,000 per year. They rent an apartment and have one child. In this case, given the length of the marriage and incomes of the parties, alimony will most likely not be awarded.
You should speak with an experienced divorce lawyer to better understand your rights and options based on your situation. Each case is different and presents different outcome possibilities. Understanding your rights and the potential arguments you may have for or against alimony can be beneficial to your divorce process.