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The Truth: Alimony is Arbitrary

I recently came across an article on how alimony is awarded in different states.  The article, titled “A Survey of Lawyers’ Observations About the Principles Governing the Award of Spousal Support Throughout the United States,” was written by J. Thomas Oldham of the University of Houston Law Center.  Here is the abstract:

Abstract

At the beginning of this project, I distributed 5000 questionnaires to family lawyers around the country. I asked the lawyers to respond by estimating the spousal support award, if any, that would result for six hypothetical divorcing couples in their jurisdiction. While the response rate was not great, the responses received suggest that there are three different types of spousal support systems in the U. S. today. In some states, spousal support is rarely awarded, and then only to prevent severe hardship. In others, spousal support is frequently awarded when the spouses’ incomes are substantially different at divorce. In most states, however, it appears that there is no clear spousal support policy, and the award, if any, in any given case is the result of which judge is assigned to hear the matter. In these states, spousal support determinations appear to be arbitrary. I have included as an appendix to my article a summary of the responses.

Some states have responded to this lack of clarity regarding spousal support standards by adopting guidelines. These guidelines attempt to provide more uniformity in terms of award amounts and award duration. To date, they have not attempted to provide guidance regarding when a spousal support award is warranted. In this article, I discuss how spousal support standards could be clarified in those states where there appears to be no clearly accepted policy.

I would say that Florida falls into the last category:  there are no alimony guidelines, and the amount you might receive or pay is highly dependent on the whims of the judge you are in front of.

That is, if you let the judge decide the amount of alimony.

You Can Be Your Own Judge

More and more families are coming to realize that going through a court battle is, in most cases, the worst possible way to divorce.  If you choose a private form of dispute resolution, such as the Collaborative Process, you and your spouse will have the final say on the amount of any alimony.

In the Collaborative Process, you and your spouse each have separate attorneys to guide you.  However, the attorneys are not there for opposition research or to prepare for trial; rather, they are there solely for the purpose of helping you reach an out-of-court agreement.  This means that no time, energy, or money is spent fighting in court.

Oftentimes, a neutral financial professional will help you and your spouse develop and analyze financial options that work best for your family.  The financial neutral can do a lifestyle analysis to determine what has been spent in the past and where there might be efficiencies that can be created in a spouse’s cash flow.   The financial professional will oftentimes also look into whether there are tax loopholes that might allow the family to enlarge their proverbial pie.

So do your family and your future a favor and consider the Collaborative Family Law Process.


Adam B. Cordover is co-author of an upcoming American Bar Association book on Collaborative Divorce.  Further, Adam trains attorneys, mental health professional, financial professionals, and mediators in the Collaborative Process throughout Florida and the U.S.

2016 Florida Alimony Reform Bill Vetoed

The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that Florida Governor Rick Scott has vetoed SB 668, a bill that was intended to make large-scale changes to the state’s alimony and child custody laws.

Rick Scott (cropped).jpg

For the first time, the bill was set to create alimony guidelines that calculated a presumptive range for the amount and length of spousal support.  Further, the bill would have directed judges, when establishing custody schedules, to start out with the premise that each parent should have approximately an equal amount of time with children.

It was that second point that seemed to be the sticking point for Governor Scott.

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Florida Family Law: Mandatory Disclosure

When you file and serve a petition in a Florida family law case that involves financial issues such as child support, alimony, or the division of property in debts, a clock starts ticking.  Within 45 days of the initial pleadings being served on the respondent, each party is required to provide the other party with a whole host of financial documents and information.

This is what is known as Mandatory Disclosure, and it is governed by Rule 12.285, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure.

The following are a list of documents that are required to be exchanged:

(1) A financial affidavit in substantial conformity with Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.902(b) if the party’s gross annual income is less than $50,000, or Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.902(c) if the party’s gross annual income is equal to or more than $50,000, which requirement cannot be waived by the parties. The financial affidavits must also be filed with the court. A party may request, by using the Standard Family Law Interrogatories, or the court on its own motion may order, a party whose gross annual income is less than $50,000 to complete Florida Family Law Rules of
Procedure Form 12.902(c).

(2) All federal and state income tax returns, gift tax returns, and intangible personal property tax returns filed by the party or on the party’s behalf for the past 3 years.

(3) IRS forms W-2, 1099, and K-1 for the past year, if the income tax return for that year has not been prepared. Read more

Florida Child Support & Alimony: What is an Obligee? What is an Obligor?

If you are going through a Florida family law case involving alimony or child support, you have probably run into the terms “obligee” and “obligor.”  So what do these terms mean?

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Modifying Florida Alimony

Now that Senate Bill 718 on alimony reform has been vetoed by Florida Governor Rick Scott, many Tampa Bay residents are wondering whether there is any way to modify or terminate their alimony obligations.  The answer, in many cases, may be yes.

Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes states that most types of alimony may be modified or terminated when there has been a substantial change in circumstances that affects the receiving spouse’s need for alimony or the paying spouse’s ability to pay. Case law tells us that a “substantial change in circumstances” means a change that was unanticipated at the time the alimony was ordered by the Court, and a change that is permanent, involuntary, and material. Examples of substantial changes in circumstance that may justify upward or downward modification include health issues, long-term unemployment, a big raise, or a large inheritance.

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Florida Alimony Reform: How Long is a “Long-Term” Marriage?

As Senate Bill 718 – which deals with Florida alimony and child custody reform – looks likely to be signed by Governor Rick Scott, this blog is exploring the various parts of the bill and discussing how they may affect Tampa Bay divorce and family law cases.

One area that this bill changes is the way that marriages are categorized as short-term, moderate-term, and long-term.  The reason this matters is because the Florida Statutes prescribes the type, quantity, and duration of alimony that a judge is likely to award depending on the length of the marriage.

See Related: Child Custody Reform * Supportive Relationships

Right now (before the changes of Senate Bill 718), the law defines the length of marriage and the presumed appropriate types of alimony (after a judge has determined that one spouse has a need for alimony and the other spouse has the ability to pay) as follows:

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Florida Alimony Reform: Supportive Relationships

As Senate Bill 718 dealing with alimony reform and child custody reform has passed both houses of the Florida Legislature and seems likely to be signed by Governor Rick Scott, this blog will attempt to explain how various aspects of the bill may impact Florida and Tampa Bay family law cases.

If signed, most changes (including changes to Florida’s supportive relationship laws) will go into effect July 1, 2013.

Currently, Florida law permits a person who has been ordered to pay alimony (called an “obligor”) to seek a modification or termination of his or her alimony order if he or she can prove that the spouse receiving alimony (called the “obligee”) is in a supportive relationship.  As the law stands now, even if the obligor can prove that the obligee is in a supportive relationship, a judge has the option, but is not required, to modify an alimony order.

The language of Senate Bill 718 changes the supportive relationship statute as follows (new language is underlined while deleted language is stricken):

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Florida Child Custody Reform 2013

There has been a lot of press lately about efforts to reform Florida’s alimony laws.  As discussed on this blog, Senate Bill 718 (which primarily deals with alimony reform) passed the Florida House by a wide margin (85 Yeas versus 31 Nays) and, since it had also passed the Florida Senate, will be going to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.

Update: Governor Scott Vetoes Senate Bill 718

One area that may be even more significant, but has not received as much coverage, is language in Senate Bill 718 that reforms Florida’s child custody laws.  Currently, there is no presumption in favor of or against any child custody schedule, including a 50/50 split custody (known as equal time-sharing).  Senate Bill 718, however, adds language to section 61.13 of the Florida Statutes that seems to make a strong presumption in favor of equal time-sharing.

The text of the child custody provisions of Senate Bill 718 is reproduced below (deleted language is stricken while new language is underlined):

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Update: Florida House Debates Alimony Reform Bill

Right now, the Florida House is debating the alimony reform bill (SB-718).  You can watch the current session at the following link:

http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/VideoPlayer.aspx?eventID=2443575804_2013041204.

Update:   SB-718 has overwhelmingly passed the Florida House.

Update: Governor Scott Vetoes Senate Bill 718

Read a previous post on alimony reform for more information.

Summary of Florida Alimony Reform Bill

House Bill 231, which proposes broad-reaching changes to Florida’s alimony statute, has passed the Civil Justice Subcommittee.  It next goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

The Judiciary Committee provides the following summary analysis of HB 231:

Alimony provides financial support to a financially dependent former spouse. The primary elements to determine entitlement are need and the ability to pay, but the statutes and case law impose many more criteria. There are four different types of alimony: bridge-the-gap alimony, rehabilitative alimony, durational alimony, and permanent alimony. An award of alimony may be modified or terminated early in certain circumstances.

The bill makes a number of changes to current law on alimony and dissolution of marriage. The bill:

  • Eliminates permanent alimony.
  • Eliminates consideration of the standard of living established during the marriage as a factor in determining alimony.
  • Creates presumptions for earning ability imputed to an obligee.
  • Requires written findings justifying factors regarding an alimony award or modification.

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