It's The Law: Supportive relationship can terminate alimony

Q: I got divorced some years ago and was ordered to pay permanent alimony. After the divorce, my spouse started living with someone else and told me she would never remarry because it would end alimony. That just doesn’t seem fair. Is she right?

A: Florida Statutes specifically provide for reduction or termination of alimony if the court finds that a supportive relationship has existed between the recipient and another person residing with the recipient. The person seeking to reduce or terminate alimony has the burden of proving by greater weight of the evidence that a supportive relationship exists. The statute goes onto indicate a supportive relationship impacting the alimony obligation should be between the recipient and a person who is not related to the recipient by common ancestors or by marriage. The court is directed to bring out information to examine the nature and extent of the relationship.

The statute mandates the court give consideration to all circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

A. Any extent as to which the recipient and the other person have held themselves out as a married couple. Evidence of such “holding-out” includes using same last name, using a common mailing address, referring to each other as “my husband” or “my wife,” or otherwise conducting themselves in a manner evidencing a permanent supportive relationship.

B. Period of time that the recipient has resided with the other person in a permanent place of residence.

C. Extent to which the recipient and the other person have pooled their assets or income or otherwise comingled their finances.

D. Extent to which the recipient or the other person has supported the other.

E. Extent to which the recipient or the other person has performed valuable services for the other.

F. Extent to which the recipient or the other person has performed valuable services for the other’s company or employer.

G. Whether the recipient and the other person have worked together to create or enhance anything of value.

H. Whether the recipient and the other person have jointly contributed to the purchase of any real or personal property.

I. Evidence supporting existence of an express agreement regarding property sharing or support between the recipient and the other person.

J. Evidence supporting claim that the recipient and the other person have an implied agreement regarding property sharing or support.

K. Whether the recipient and the other person have provided support to the children of one another, regardless of any legal duty to do so.

The statute makes it clear that supportive relationship does not create a marriage. A marriage in Florida must be created by a solemnized ceremony under a license. A common law marriage cannot be created in Florida.

One Florida appellate court held that once the supportive relationship is established, alimony must be reduced or eliminated. Most Florida appellate courts have held establishing a supportive relationship only shifts the burden to the recipient to prove a continued need for alimony and that alimony is not automatically reduced or terminated. A good example is the recent case of Gregory v. Gregory.

In Gregory, the former husband established existence of a supportive relationship and the court then looked to the former wife to satisfy her burden of proving continued need for alimony. The court noted the former wife supported her cohabitant to a certain extent, and that the former husband had no obligation to help support the former wife’s cohabitant. The court also noted that the former wife had inherited $370,000 from her mother. She used the funds in part to enhance her lifestyle, purchase a $44,000 recreational vehicle, which was titled jointly with the cohabitant. She also made substantial gifts to her son. All of this demonstrated that the former wife no longer needed alimony.

These cases require the judge to interpret the statute and apply the law to the facts. Presentation of evidence is critical. I recommend you retain an experienced attorney to first review your situation and, if warranted, proceed with court action and expert presentation of evidence to the court.

William G. Morris is an attorney whose practice covers a broad range of subjects, including civil litigation, real estate, business and corporate law, estate planning and probate, domestic relations and contracts. He writes this column periodically with respect to legal matters that frequently affect non-lawyers. The information contained in this column is not intended as legal advice and, of necessity, is generalized. For questions about specific circumstances, the reader should consult a qualified attorney.

Questions for this column can be sent to William G. Morris, e-mail: wgmorrislaw@embarqmail.com or by fax, (239) 642-0722.

Other articles of interest can be viewed at our website, www.wgmorrislaw.com.

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