Your Guide to Successfully Modifying Alimony in Florida
You know as well as we do that the one constant in life is change. The way life looked during your divorce is probably not the same as it is now. Maybe you received a raise, got re-married, or your ex-spouse moved farther away.
Every change life throws at you after your divorce may impact your finances. That’s why, in Florida, the law allows you to modify an alimony award. However, there are hurdles you must overcome to do so.
Before you jump in and file a petition to modify alimony, make sure you understand the process and read the law. Modifying alimony in Florida can get complicated and has to meet certain criteria if you’re going to prevail with your petition.
Your best bet is to have an experienced Florida divorce lawyer by your side who can help you navigate the alimony process so you either receive the alimony support you need or pay a fair amount to your ex-spouse.
Related Reading: Alimony in Florida
A Refresher on the Common Types of Alimony in Florida
Your ability to modify alimony is heavily influenced by the type of alimony you’re paying or receiving. Here are the most common types of alimony in Florida.
- Temporary Alimony
Temporary alimony is paid to a spouse during the divorce proceeding and ends when the final judgment is entered.
- Bridge the Gap Alimony
This type of alimony helps a spouse transition from married to single life and ensures both ex-spouses can financially support themselves during the transition.
- Rehabilitative Alimony
Rehabilitative alimony can support a parent who stayed home to raise the couple’s children and went without an income during that time. Or, if one spouse was a student and not employed. The ex-spouse can receive support until finding employment.
- Durational Alimony
Durational alimony can be awarded if a marriage lasted fewer than 17 years. This type of alimony ensures that payments do not exceed the length of the marriage.
- Permanent Alimony
Permanent alimony is spousal support that lasts until the ex-spouse remarries or until their death. This type of alimony is typically awarded in marriages that lasted for longer than 17 years.
In addition to these five common types of alimony, there is also lump-sum alimony. This type is not paid month-to-month but rather in one lump sum or spread across a few payments. By paying alimony in one lump-sum, the payor has no further alimony obligation.
The Process of Modifying Alimony in Florida
The spouse requesting the modification must prove there has been a ‘substantial change in circumstances’ since the most recent alimony order. Modifications can increase, decrease, or terminate alimony obligations.
In Florida, a substantial change in circumstances can include a wide variety of facts. This list includes circumstances usually deemed by a court as substantial.
- Significant Change in Income; either a pay increase or an involuntary pay decrease
- Change in Benefits; the addition of health benefits, for instance
- Sudden Health Concern; a serious long-term illness or other serious concern
- A Child or Children Reaching Majority; 18 years old in Florida
- Cost of Living Increases Over Time
- Other Changes in Circumstance; those that the court finds substantial
For a court to consider any of these changes as grounds for the modification of alimony, the change must have been unanticipated when the most recent alimony order was awarded and assumed to be permanent.
Modification Requirements – To obtain a modification of alimony, the party seeking modification must allege, and the trial court must find, that (1) there has been a substantial change in circumstances, (2) the change was not contemplated at the time of the final judgment of dissolution, and (3) the change is sufficient, material, permanent, and involuntary. See – Golson v. Golson, 207 So. 3d 321.
One of the two also must typically occur for a modification to be awarded; (1) there’s a substantial change in need of either ex-spouse or (2) there’s a substantial increase in the payor’s ability to pay.
If the modification request is the result of the payor losing income, the court will look for evidence that they are not deliberately trying to avoid paying alimony. If the court determines that the payor is acting in good faith and attempting to regain income, they will usually issue a temporary alimony modification order.
Circumstances that a Florida court will not consider substantial may include:
- Change in Income; job loss that’s voluntary or if a spouse is fired without good cause
- Expenses from a Second Marriage
How to Begin the Alimony Modification Process
Modifying your current alimony order begins by filing a Supplemental Petition for Alimony. In the petition, the moving party must provide evidence of why the modification is a necessary reaction to a substantial change in circumstances. Typically, this requires you to provide statements showing your income, assets, expenses, and possibly other financial documents.
The petition is filed with the court that entered the original alimony award. The clerk will process the petition and you will have to request a hearing for the Judge to review and consider the request.
You and your ex-spouse will both need to attend the hearing. The spouse requesting the hearing presents evidence demonstrating the need for the alimony modification. The other spouse then has an opportunity to provide evidence that he or she feels is relevant.
The spouse requesting the modification typically testifies at the hearing, though anyone can testify on your behalf including a boss, physician, or other individuals directly related to the circumstances surrounding the request for modification.
Finally, if the court finds the evidence presented to be a significant change in circumstances and the modification lawful, a modification to the alimony order is granted.
A Hearing Can Be Avoided in Alimony Modification Cases if Both Ex-Spouses Agree on Terms
If you and your ex-spouse acknowledge the change in circumstances as substantial and agree on a modified alimony payment amount, you can prepare and sign a court order showing the new alimony amount. Most of the time, a judge will agree to the court order and avoid a hearing. If, however, the judge feels that one spouse is being taken advantage of by the other based on the revised alimony amount, he or she may decide to hold a hearing.
Every Alimony Modification, Even When Agreed-Upon by Both Parties, Must Be Court-Ordered
Even when you and your ex-spouse agree to changes to your alimony arrangement, do not modify payments without first obtaining a court order.
This is especially important if your agreement results in a reduced alimony payment or the elimination of alimony altogether. If you stop or reduce your alimony payment without court approval, you can be found in contempt of court and subject to potentially significant financial consequences.
Circumstances That Don’t Allow for Alimony Modification
While alimony can be modified in Florida, there are cases where a modification is not lawful, such as:
You and Your Ex-Spouse Agreed to a Non-Modifiable Alimony Order
If you and your ex-spouse agreed to an alimony amount and also agreed that amount could never be modified, then a modification to the alimony order will not be accepted by the court.
You and Your Spouse Did Not Order Alimony Before the Divorce Was Finalized
If you finalized your divorce without entering an order for alimony, then no future petitions for alimony can be made.
If you’re at the beginning of the divorce process and want to ensure alimony is an option in the future, you can negotiate for a nominal alimony award of $1. By having an existing alimony award, you leave the door open to modify and increase that alimony amount in the future. This can be a smart stipulation to include if your ex-spouse can’t afford to pay you alimony at the time of your divorce.
Payers of nominal alimony should have an experienced Florida divorce attorney on their side to ensure alimony is negotiated fairly.
Contact us today for a free family law case evaluation. We’ll listen to your case and explain your rights. When you’re ready to work with an experienced Florida family law and divorce lawyer to help with your alimony case, fill out the form on our Contact Us page or give us a call at (954) 880-1302.