Frequently Asked Questions
Legal matters are complex. Questions about alimony or potential alimony awards are very fact specific. If you have questions or concerns about your specific circumstances, it is strongly recommended that you speak with a qualified Florida family law attorney.
The information on this page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
Is there a difference between “alimony” and “spousal support” and “spousal maintenance”?
No. Each of those terms can be used interchangeably. For the sake of consistency, this Article will use “alimony.”
What is alimony?
Alimony is money or other financial provisions paid or provided by one spouse (or former spouse) to the other spouse (or former spouse) for support. The purpose of alimony is to provide the needs and necessities of life to a former spouse as established by the marriage of the parties.
Can I get alimony in my paternity case?
No. Alimony is only appropriate when the parties have been married to each other. Fla. Stat. § 61.08(1) starts by saying “In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage…” There is no provision for alimony under Florida paternity laws which are governed by Chapter 742, Florida Statutes.
Do the spouses have to get divorced for alimony to be ordered?
No. Florida Statute Section 61.09, titled Alimony and Child Support Unconnected with Dissolution, permits a spouse to request the court enter an order for alimony without seeking a dissolution of marriage.
Does alimony always have to be money exchanging hands?
No. In certain circumstances, Florida law permits courts to award the use or possession or transfer of some asset as a form of alimony. For example, depending on the facts, a court may award one spouse exclusive use and possession or transfer of the former marital home or a vehicle to the recipient spouse as alimony.
How is alimony paid?
There are four possibilities:
- The payor makes the payments directly to the recipient spouse.
- The payor makes the payments directly to the State Disbursement Unit (“SDU”) – a centralized agency for the collection and disbursement of alimony and child support.
- Payments are withheld from the payor’s paycheck through an Income Withholding Order (“IWO”) (formerly known as an Income Deduction Order) and the employer sends the payments directly to the recipient spouse.
- Payments are withheld from the payor’s paycheck through an IWO and sent to the SDU.
Income Withholding Orders
Section 61.1301, Florida Statutes, requires that, upon entry of an order establishing, enforcing, or modifying an obligation for alimony, for child support, or for both, the court must enter an income withholding order (IWO) which were previously known as “income deduction orders” and are also referred to as “wage garnishment”. Entry of an IWO is discretionary for temporary alimony, temporary child support, or both.
If the parties agree, the payment of alimony can be made directly from one spouse (or former spouse) to the other without entry of an IWO.
Fla. Stat. § 61.1301 (1)(a) states in pertinent part: “Upon the entry of an order establishing, enforcing, or modifying an obligation for alimony, for child support, or for alimony and child support, other than a temporary order, the court shall enter a separate order for income deduction if one has not been entered. Upon the entry of a temporary order establishing support or the entry of a temporary order enforcing or modifying a temporary order of support, the court may enter a separate order of income deduction.” Fla. Stat. § 61.1301 (1)(c) provides for judicial discretion on effective date of order
It is error for the court to fail to enter an income deduction order because Section 61.1301(1)(a) contains mandatory language as to entry of such an order.
Fla. Stat. § 61.1301(1)(C) requires the income deduction order be effective immediately unless good cause is shown where the court can find that the order be effective upon a delinquency in an amount equal to one month’s support. The central question in deciding whether to grant a delayed income deduction order is whether there is substantial assurance of future payment.
State Disbursement Unit
Section 61.08(10), Florida Statutes, requires that all alimony payments, with some exceptions, be made through the State Disbursement Unit.
If the parties do not have a minor child in common, the payments may or may not be directed through the State Disbursement Unit.
If the parties have a minor child in common and they both request the payments not be made through the State Disbursement Unit, the payments may be made directly from the payor to the recipient spouse.
What types of alimony are there?
There are several types of alimony under Florida law including: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, and permanent alimony. Any of the foregoing types of alimony can be paid in lump sum or periodic payments. The court can use various combinations of alimony awards to provide for a needy spouse after the dissolution of a marriage.
Alimony can be paid on a temporary basis while the divorce case is pending.
Each type of alimony will be discussed in turn below.
What does the court consider when deciding on an alimony request?
Florida law regarding alimony is governed by Florida Statute Section 61.08, titled Alimony. The court must first determine whether either party as an actual need for alimony and that the other party has the ability to pay alimony. Once need and ability to pay have been found, the court must consider all relevant factors to determine the proper type and amount of alimony. There are roughly ten (10) different factors the court must consider including, among other things, the marital standard of living, the duration of the marriage, each party’s financial resources, and each party’s earning capabilities.
The trial judge, when fashioning an alimony award, must ensure that neither spouse passes automatically from misfortune to prosperity or visa versa. The alimony award may not leave the payor with significantly less net income than the net income of the recipient unless the court makes written findings of exceptional circumstances. An alimony award cannot be so high as to cause the payor to be unable to meet his/her own needs.
Alimony awards cannot include a “savings component” (in other words, exceed the recipient spouse’s actual needs).
My spouse committed adultery during the marriage. Does the court consider that when deciding on alimony?
Section 61.08(1), Florida Statutes, currently states “The court may consider the adultery of either spouse and the circumstances thereof in determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be awarded.” (emphasis added) However, most Courts construe the language to require that there must be some sort of financial impact of the adulterous relationship on the marital estate or income before the “affair” will be delved into with any great detail. Alimony awards cannot be used as a form of punishment. Click here to read a copy of the full 2014 Florida alimony statute.
Who carries the burden of proof when alimony is being requested?
The person requesting the alimony carries the initial burden of proof to establish the income available for alimony. Once substantial competent evidence is presented, the burden shifts to the other spouse to rebut the evidence presented.
Does the length of marriage matter when determining alimony?
The length of the marriage is one of the factors the court must consider when determining an alimony award. The length of a marriage is the period of time from the date of marriage until the date of filing an action for dissolution of marriage. Presently, Fla. Stat. § 61.08(4) includes the following rebuttable presumptions of lengths of marriages:
- fewer than 7 years = short term marriage
- greater than 7 hears but fewer than 17 years = moderate term marriage
- greater than 17 years = long-term marriage
Can alimony be paid while a divorce case is pending?
Yes, parties can agree or the court an order that alimony be paid prior to a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage being entered. This is called “temporary alimony.” Fla. Stat. § 61.071 grants the court this authority. The standard for a temporary alimony award is the parties’ present standard of living and the paying spouse’s present ability to pay.
Are there limits to how much or how long temporary alimony can be awarded?
Temporary relief awards are among the areas where trial court judges have the most discretion, however this discretion is not without limitations.
When determining when to award temporary alimony and how much temporary alimony is appropriate, the trial court judge must consider two primary factors: (1) the financial need of the party requesting the award and (2) the financial ability of the other party to pay such an award.
When determining a party’s need for temporary alimony, long range and vacation items should not be considered.
Also, a temporary alimony award cannot include a savings component (in other words, the alimony award cannot exceed the recipient spouse’s actual financial needs).
Temporary alimony can last no longer than entry of a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.
Can temporary alimony be modified?
Yes. Temporary alimony is modifiable. Fla. Stat. § 61.14(11)(a) permits courts, upon good cause shown, to modify, vacate, or set aside temporary support orders before or upon final judgment. A substantial change in circumstances is not required.
Fla. Stat. § 61.14(11)(b) permits the court to make modifications to the temporary alimony award retroactive to the date of the initial entry of the order establishing the award.
Should a possible alimony recipient be required to live off of his/her assets while the divorce proceeding is pending?
No. A recipient spouse should not be required to deplete his/her assets to maintain the standard of living during the marriage while the divorce proceeding is pending.
What is bridge-the-gap alimony?
Fla. Stat. § 61.08(5) addresses bridge-the-gap alimony. Bridge-the-gap alimony may be awarded to assist a spouse with legitimate, identifiable, short-term needs. It is meant to enable the spouse to bridge the gap from married to unmarried life. Trial courts may award bridge-the-gap alimony awards even where there is no transitional plan. The trial court may award bridge-the-gap alimony to do justice between the parties.
Is there a time-limit on bridge-the-gap alimony?
Yes. Bridge-the-gap alimony may not exceed two (2) years in duration.
When does bridge-the-gap alimony end?
Unless the parties agree otherwise, bridge-the-gap alimony terminates upon the death of either party or remarriage of the recipient spouse.
Is bridge-the-gap alimony modifiable?
Bridge-the-gap alimony is not modifiable in amount or duration.
What is rehabilitative alimony?
Fla. Stat. § 61.08(6) addresses rehabilitative alimony. Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to assist a party in becoming self-supporting through (1) the re-development of previous skills or credentials; or (2) the acquisition of education, training, or work experience necessary to develop appropriate employment skills or credentials.
Are there any special requirements that need to be met for the court to award rehabilitative alimony?
Yes. There must be a specific and defined rehabilitative plan which must be included as a part of any order awarding rehabilitative alimony. The rehabilitative plan must be adequate and credible. The plan must be specific and supported by the trial court’s findings. The plan should include the objective, cost, and time period required for completion.
The rehabilitative plan need not be written – the recipient spouse’s testimony as to his/her plan may be sufficient. However, in light of Fla. Stat. § 61.08(6)(b)’s requirement that the plan be included in the court’s order, the better practice would be the presentation of the plan in writing whenever possible.
When does rehabilitative alimony end?
An award of rehabilitative alimony may be modified or terminated based upon a substantial change in circumstances, upon non-compliance with the rehabilitative plan, or upon completion of the rehabilitative plan. It is error for the court to fail to include a termination date.
Is rehabilitative alimony modifiable?
Yes. Rehabilitative alimony may be modified or terminated based on a substantial change in circumstances occurring, upon non-compliance with the rehabilitative plan, or upon completion of the plan. Fla. Stat. § 61.08(6)(c).
What is durational alimony?
Fla. Stat. § 61.08 (7) addresses durational alimony. Durational alimony may be awarded when permanent alimony is inappropriate. The purpose of durational alimony is to provide the recipient spouse with economic assistance for a set period of time following a marriage of short or moderate duration if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis.
How long can durational alimony last?
Durational alimony may not exceed the length of the parties’ marriage.
When does durational alimony end?
Durational alimony terminates upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the recipient spouse.
Is durational alimony modifiable?
Yes. The amount of a durational alimony award may be modified or terminated when a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. The length of a durational alimony may not be modified except under exceptional circumstances.
What is permanent alimony?
Fla. Stat. § 61.08 (8) addresses permanent periodic alimony. Permanent alimony is alimony where there is no set end date. Permanent alimony may be awarded to provide for the needs and necessities of life as they were established during the parties’ marriage for the spouse who lacks the financial ability to meet his/her needs and necessities of life following a dissolution of marriage.
When can permanent alimony be awarded?
Pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 61.08 (8), permanent alimony may be awarded following a:
- long term marriage if such an award is appropriate upon consideration of the factors listed in Section 61.08(2), Florida Statutes;
- moderate term marriage if such an award is appropriate based upon clear and convincing evidence after consideration of the factors listed in Section 61.08(2), Florida Statutes; or
- short term marriage if there are written findings of exceptional circumstances.
In long term marriages, there is an initial presumption in favor of an award of permanent alimony. In moderate term marriages, there is no presumption regarding permanent alimony. In short term marriages, there is a rebuttable presumption against permanent alimony.
Are there special requirements that must be met prior to permanent alimony being awarded?
The court must make the requisite findings based on the statutory factors listed in Section 61.08(2), Florida Statutes, especially for moderate term marriages.
Fla. Stat. § 61.08 (8) requires that the court make a finding that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the parties’ circumstances prior to being able to award permanent alimony.
When does permanent alimony end?
A permanent alimony award may be modified or terminated if a substantial change in circumstances occurs or upon existence of a supportive relationship as provided for under Section 61.14(b), Florida Statutes.
Is permanent alimony modifiable?
A permanent alimony award may be modified or terminated if the party seeking modification or termination shows that a substantial, unanticipated, involuntary, and permanent change in circumstances has occurred since entry of the final judgment.
Permanent alimony awards may also be modified or terminated upon existence of a supportive relationship as provided for under Section 61.14(b), Florida Statutes.
LUMP SUM V. PERIODIC PAYMENTS OF ALIMONY
What does “periodic payments” of alimony mean?
Periodic payment of alimony means a payment of a certain amount of alimony at regular intervals (for example payment of the alimony on a monthly, semi-monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly basis).
What is “lump sum” alimony?
Lump sum alimony is payment of alimony in one or multiple payments.
Are periodic or lump sum alimony payments different from bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or permanent alimony?
No. Bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, and permanent alimony awards can be awarded in periodic or lump sum formats.
When can alimony be awarded in lump sum format?
For lump sum alimony to be awarded, there must be a showing of need and ability to pay as well as unusual circumstances which require non-modifiable support and justification that does not substantially endanger the payor’s economic status.
Justification for a lump sum alimony award may be “good reason” or “useful purpose”. Courts have previously upheld an award of lump sum alimony in cases where:
- there was no reason for future contact (i.e. no children or property).
- there was a history of dissipation of assets and the award of lump sum alimony protected receipt of the money.
- the health and age of the payor spouse made the award appropriate.
- there was a showing of lack of reliability on the part of the payor spouse.
Is there a limitation to the award of lump sum alimony?
A state court cannot designate lump sum alimony as “non-dischargeable in bankruptcy” as state courts do not have jurisdiction to decide federal bankruptcy issues during state proceedings.
Lump sum alimony is non-modifiable and does not terminate upon a spouse’s death or remarriage. Upon award, it is a vested property right.
Lump sum alimony awards are separate from equitable distribution equalizing payments and should be treated as such.