The Florida legislature has again modified the alimony statute with the changes set to go into effect July 1, 2011. The clear purpose of the modifications to the alimony statute is to continue to limit the amount and circumstances under which a party can receive alimony. With the advent of equal opportunities for women, society has gradually become more indisposed to the concept of alimony. This disfavor is reflected in the legislature’s revisions to the alimony statute.
So, how did the legislature further restrict the ability to obtain alimony. First, the legislature clarified that, once the basic requirements has been met that one party has a need for alimony and the other party has the ability to pay alimony, the court in determining the proper type and amount of alimony under all types of alimony (permanent, durational, and temporary), must consider all 10 statutory factors already delineated in the statute.
Next, the legislature provided that durational alimony is also available after a long-term marriage of over 17 years if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis. Permanent alimony continues until death, remarriage or cohabitation by the spouse receiving alimony while durational alimony is only for a set period of time, cannot be modified except under exceptional circumstances and cannot last for any longer time period than the marriage lasted. Formerly, durational alimony was only available for short-term marriages (seven years or less) or moderate-term marriages (seven years to 17 years). The latest provision is intended to encourage trial courts to further limit the situations in which they provide for permanent alimony.
Then the legislature made it clear that permanent alimony may only be awarded in short-term or moderate-term marriages under certain extreme circumstances. In an effort to further emphasize to the trial courts the disfavor that currently exists regarding permanent alimony in short-term and moderate-term marriages, the legislature required that an award of permanent alimony in a marriage of moderate duration must be based upon clear and convincing evidence as opposed to the typical standard of preponderance of the evidence. Further, in order to award permanent alimony in a marriage of short duration, the trial court is now required to make written findings of the exceptional circumstances which warranted such permanent alimony. Additionally, in any circumstance where the trial court awards permanent alimony, it is now required to include a finding that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the circumstances of the parties. Clearly, these requirements were intended to encourage if not force the trial court to use other types of alimony other than permanent alimony.
Finally, the legislature codified the requirement that has essentially always been in place which is that the party paying alimony should not be left with significantly less net income than the net income of the party receiving alimony except under exceptional circumstances. If there are such exceptional circumstances, the trial court must make written findings to support this type of award.
Obviously, these changes are geared to further society’s general disfavor of alimony, and particularly permanent alimony, except under limited circumstances. The legislature’s changes reflect that societal change.