Recent Changes in Child Support and Alimony Laws in Florida

Child Support in Florida recently went through some drastic changes. Effective January 2011, if one parent has 20% or more of the overnights (73 or more overnights during the course of a year), then their child support obligation may be reduced (it used to be 40% or more of the overnights). In my opinion, this is because the legislature, in determining the child support guidelines, contemplated that if the child was spending that much time with one of the parents, then they were already contributing to the support of the child by virtue of the amount of time that they were spending with the child. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any child support paid at all, just that there is a second calculation that has to be done to determine what the appropriate amount of child support to be exchanged should be. The amount of the decrease is determined by the percentage of overnights, and someone who has 20% will not have nearly the reduction as someone who has 40% or more. And, if the parties incomes are significantly different, there will probably still be some child support exchanged even if the timesharing is equal or 50/50. The child support obligation will simply be a reduction from what it would be under the standard child support calculation.

Alimony also has recently undergone drastic changes. First, the legislature defined three different “types” of marriages: short term, moderate term and long term. The term of the marriage is determined as the length of time from the date the parties were married until the date of the filing of the divorce action. A short term marriage is less than 7 years; a moderate term marriage is more than 7 years, but less than 17, and a long term marriage is 17 years or greater.

Additionally, they have now defined the types of alimony available, and even created a new type, durational alimony. There are now four kinds of Alimony (spousal support) in Florida: Bridge-the-Gap, Rehabilitative, Durational and Permanent Periodic. Any of these can be ordered to be paid either via a lump sum payment or monthly payments or a combination of the two. Additionally, temporary alimony or maintenance can be awarded during the duration of the divorce proceedings until a final determination is made by the Judge (or by agreement).

Bridge-the-Gap Alimony – is exactly that, a payment that is made for a certain period of time to help the other party adjust or “get on their feet” following separation. It might be for three months, or six months, or a year or more. Every case is different. It can be awarded whether it is a “short term” marriage, a “moderate term” marriage or a “long term” marriage, depending on the needs and abilities of the parties involved. It is designed to assist the party that has a need with transitioning from being married to being single and meeting legitimate, identifiable short-term needs. It cannot exceed two years and is not modifiable in amount or duration, unless one party dies or remarries.

Rehabilitative Alimony – is a monthly payment that is made for a certain period of time while that person learns a new trade or finishes their education or something similar in order to have the ability to better support themselves. In order to qualify for Rehabilitative Alimony, there has to be a specific and realistic plan developed which would have to be submitted to the Judge for approval. A person will not be awarded Rehabilitative Alimony just so that they can “go back to school in the near future.” A specific and realistic plan for someone might be going back to school for two years to finish their degree, showing that they’ve already been accepted into the program, and detailing this plan, clearly and concisely, to the Judge, along with all necessary financial aspects. If the Judge approves the plan and all of the other necessary factors are there, then usually Rehabilitative Alimony will be awarded (but again, only if there is a legitimate need and ability to pay). Also, Rehabilitative Alimony is typically only awarded if it is a “moderate term” marriage or a “long term” marriage and, of course, depends on the age of the parties. However, depending on the circumstances, it is possible that it would be awarded even if it is a “short term” marriage (although the shorter the term, the less likely). It is important to note that if a party is awarded Rehabilitative Alimony and fails to comply with the terms of their rehabilitation plan, this can be grounds for termination or modification of the Rehabilitative Alimony award.

Durational Alimony – is alimony that is paid for a specific duration that is longer than two years. It was created by the Florida Legislature effective July 1, 2010. It did not previously exist. It is now available to be awarded when Permanent Periodic alimony is not appropriate. This can be very beneficial to the paying spouse who previously might have been ordered to pay permanent alimony, when a permanent need really did not exist, but one longer than a few years did. The purpose of durational alimony is to provide a party with economic assistance for a set period of time following a marriage of “short” or “moderate” duration. It terminates upon the death or remarriage of the party, and cannot exceed the length of the marriage. It may also be modified or terminated if the financial circumstances of either party substantially change and upon proper application to the Court.

Permanent Periodic Alimony – is essentially what the name implies. It is a monthly payment that is “permanent”, and which would typically only conclude upon the receiving individual getting remarried or dying. Permanent alimony is typically awarded to provide for the needs and necessities of the lesser earning (or no earning) spouse following a divorce and is generally only awarded in “long term” marriages, unless, after consideration of the various factors, which would include infidelity, the court finds that it is appropriate following a “moderate term” marriage. However, in the most extreme circumstances, it could even be awarded in a “short term” marriage (such as if one party becomes totally disabled during the marriage and will never be able to support themselves and the other party has a clear ability to pay the support). Again, everything depends on the needs and abilities of the parties involved, combined with the other factors the court must consider. It should be noted though that even if the award is “permanent”, if there is a “substantial change in circumstances” that was not contemplated at the time the alimony was awarded (such as being laid off and only being able to obtain a much lesser paying job), it is possible to modify Permanent alimony. It can also be modified if the receiving party enters into a supportive relationship (which in and of itself has multiple defining factors and is more than just having a significant other and residing together).

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