So you thought “permanent alimony” really meant permanent. Not for long.
The Florida Legislature has recently passed a bill titled “An act relating to family law” — quite an innocuous title for a bill that promises to completely change alimony in Florida. Provided it is signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, this bill will not only bring sweeping changes to the amount and duration of alimony that is awarded in the future, but it will have a profound impact on alimony obligations already in place.
Under the new legislation, permanent alimony is completely eliminated. In addition, the number of years for which alimony can be awarded is reduced and the percentage of a spouse’s income that can be awarded as alimony is capped based on the length of the marriage.
Further, the new legislation will make it easier for a spouse who is paying alimony to have that payment reduced or completely eliminated as a result of their retirement.
Perhaps most surprising is that these changes will not only apply to cases decided on or after July 1, 2013, but will also apply to cases that were completed years ago by trial or through a marital settlement agreement.
With the elimination of permanent alimony, the forms of alimony remaining under the proposed legislation are: bridge-the-gap (alimony for two years, maximum); rehabilitative (alimony for obtaining an education), and durational (alimony for a set term of years).
Although the length of bridge-the-gap alimony remains the same, the term for durational alimony will be reduced from its current limitation, the length of the marriage, to an amount of time not to exceed 50 percent of the length of the marriage. For example, the durational alimony term for an 18-year marriage will be presumed to be a maximum of nine years. The court will have the discretion to award alimony for a longer term of years depending on the circumstances of the parties.
For the first time, the revised alimony statute will contain percentage caps on the amount of alimony that may be awarded. In a short-term marriage (redefined as zero to 11 years) the monthly alimony award will be limited to 25 percent of the payor’s gross monthly income. In a midterm marriage (redefined as 11 to 19 years) the alimony payment will be limited to 35 percent of the payor’s gross monthly income. In the case of a long-term marriage (redefined as 20 years or more) the percentage is capped at 38 percent of the payor’s gross monthly income. These percentages will be subject to increase by the court in certain circumstances.
In addition, reaching retirement age will become a statutory basis for modification of an alimony obligation. For those reaching a reasonable retirement age in his/her profession or for those who have retired with no intent to return to work, their alimony obligation is eligible for modification or termination.
It will also be possible to seek a modification of alimony in anticipation of a future retirement date with the modification becoming effective on the date of retirement.
Finally, the pending legislation will, by itself, provide the basis for modification of a pre-existing alimony award in the following circumstances:
The alimony award resulted from final judgment following a trial;
The alimony payments resulted from a marital settlement agreement, the length of the marriage was equal to or less than 15 years, and the term of alimony exceeds the length of the marriage. In addition, the agreement must not expressly state that it is non-modifiable.
In the event that the pending legislation becomes law, not every alimony award will be subject to modification. Therefore, it is important for anyone considering seeking a modification of their alimony obligation to consult with an attorney to determine their eligibility for modification under the revised statute.