The Alimony Chameleon — Where Do You Stand? By Kathryn DeVane Hamilton

Editor’s Note: Kathryn DeVane Hamilton, Haute Lawyer Network partner in South Florida and expert attorney in Family and Divorce Law talks about proposed changes to alimony laws pending in Florida’s legislature.

Despite all of the press that in 2020 the legislature would be voting to change alimony laws as we know it in Florida, Bill HB 843 was dead on arrival at the 2020 legislative session. In fact, it was not even submitted for a vote in the House and never advanced to the Senate despite the Governor asking for a bill to be sent to him. Was it the onset of the pandemic? The current political climate in Florida? Or that the negative sentiments about alimony in Florida are changing? It is unlikely we will know until the vote during legislative session in March 2021. However, if you look into the proverbial crystal ball and it tells you that alimony may be in your future, either as a recipient or the payor, you should consider what was on the table in the 2020 Bill because 2021 is right around the corner:

Kathryn DeVane Hamilton - shutterstock_505358629Photo Credit: Shutterstock

  1. The elimination of court ordered permanent alimony. Currently, if you are married for 17 years or more, the spouse that cannot support the marital lifestyle after divorce is entitled to alimony until the wealthier spouse actually retires at the age of retirement (translation: stops earning an income, including an investment income) or either spouse’s death. However, divorcing couples may agree in a settlement to permanent alimony. You may ask- -who would agree to pay permanent alimony if not required to by the Florida Legislature? This “bone” thrown out by the Legislature does not do much for an older spouse or even someone that has spent their adult life at home raising children and has not been in the workforce for years.  If you are already in divorce proceedings, your spouse is unlikely to agree to pay you permanent alimony.
  2. For durational alimony (alimony awarded for a specific time period such as a number of years or months), we may finally see statutory limitations on the term of durational alimony in that it may not exceed 50% of the length of the parties’ marriage, nor may the amount exceed 25% of net combined income of both parties, and there is a cap of the total net income considered as available to pay alimony of $300,000. This will be a substantial change for couples that lived a high lifestyle during the marriage because it limits the alimony recipient’s monthly alimony to $6,250.00!
  3. When determining the amount of any type of alimony, “standard of living” would no longer be a factor but instead the court will look at a spouse’s “reasonable need”. This is a revolutionary change because in South Florida, a couple’s standard of living is one of the predominant factors a court will weigh when determining the amount to be paid, after the recipient’s need for alimony and the payor’s ability to pay from their income.
  4. Removal of the court’s authority to order the payor to purchase life insurance to secure an alimony award, and instead gives the option for the recipient to purchase such a policy. The requirement to purchase a life insurance policy to secure one’s alimony obligation has changed throughout the years and the Legislature seems to want to clarify this issue once and for all.

It seems that a more conservative approach to alimony remains in Florida’s future. This should be pondered if you are contemplating ending your marriage. If you are a spouse that would receive alimony, you should realize that the duration and amounts that can be awarded may be drastically decreasing mid-2021. On the other side, if you may have to pay alimony, the laws may soon be more favorable to you.   Given the rocky terrain for divorcing couples in Florida including the unknowns for alimony entitlement or exposure, it would behoove anyone considering a divorce to consult experienced Florida divorce counsel such as Kathryn DeVane Hamilton, Esquire.