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 since received a raise, got re-married, or your ex-spouse moved farther away.
Every change that 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
IMPORTANT LAW UPDATE: Florida’s alimony law was changed with the passage of the alimony reform bill, effective July 1, 2023, for all new or pending filings for dissolution of marriage (and some modification requests). The new law ends permanent alimony and replaces it with four types and creates a formula for alimony awards based on the length of marriage and codifies the termination or reduction of alimony when the payor has reached the normal retirement age.
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 four 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, but this alimony may not exceed 5 years.
- Durational Alimony
Durational alimony can be awarded if a marriage lasted more than 3 years. This type of alimony ensures that payments do not exceed the length of the marriage.
For a comprehensive discussion of Alimony, see our article on what to know about alimony in Florida which includes the new substantial changes to the law.
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 Modification of 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 in opposing the requested modification.
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 shows a significant change in circumstances, and that the requested modification is lawful, a modification to the alimony order will be granted.
Terminating or Reducing Alimony When the Payor has Reached Normal Retirement Age
Under the new alimony law, when an alimony payor has reached the normal retirement age, judges may reduce or terminate alimony, support or maintenance payments after considering several factors. Normal retirement age is considered to be the normal retirement age specified by the Social Security Administration or the customary retirement age for the payor’s profession. The payor spouse must actually retire or make demonstrable efforts to retire and retirement must reduce the payor’s ability to pay. A payor may file a Supplemental Petition for Modification six months prior to the date of retirement.
A Judge will consider ten factors in determining whether to reduce or terminate alimony:
- the age and health of the payor.
- the type of work performed by the payor.
- the customary age of retirement in the payor’s profession.
- the likelihood that the payor will return to work, and the payor’s motivation for retiring.
- the needs of the party receiving alimony and that recipient’s ability to contribute to his or her own needs.
- the impact that the termination or reduction of alimony would have on the payee.
- the parties’ assets before, during and after the dissolution of marriage, and whether either of the parties wastefully dissipated assets received at the time of the divorce.
- the income earned by the parties during and after the marriage.
- the retirement, pension and Social Security Benefits received by the parties after the marriage.
- the payor’s compliance with his or her alimony obligation.
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 still 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. The old order generally remains in effect until a new order is entered.
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 the amount could never be modified, then a modification to the alimony order will not be accepted by the court. This is true even with the passage of the new alimony reform bill.
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 – and recipients of 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.