While lawyers and judges are the ultimate legal experts, of course, I believe that every citizen should take the time to learn a little about law for several reasons. First, it is important to know your rights, and knowing them can come in handy if anyone ever accuses you of a crime you didn't commit or threatens you legally in another other way. Second, learning about your local, state, and federal laws can help you act as a better citizen. When election time comes around, you can then truly understand ever change in law being proposed by a candidate and whether it benefits society or not. I plan to share posts about law topics explained in plain English on my new blog, so you can come back often to sharpen your legal knowledge!
If you live in Florida and are considering filing for divorce from an unemployed, stay-at-home, or low-earning spouse, you may be concerned about the potential financial ramifications of this decision. Unlike most other states, even those that grant judges generous discretion, Florida courts have the ability to award "lifetime alimony" to a lower-earning spouse. However, this could soon be changing. Read on to learn more about what factors may be considered when determining alimony under current law, as well as potential changes to this law coming in 2016.
How is alimony currently determined under Florida law?
Like lawmakers in a number of other states, Florida legislators have determined that in situations where the income gap between divorcing parties is large, the lower-earning spouse may be at a particular disadvantage. In these cases, the higher-earning spouse may be required to provide temporary spousal support (in addition to any child support assessed) until the lower-earning spouse can get back on his or her feet and begin earning a more stable income.
Unlike other states, which generally restrict the issuance of alimony to a "reasonable time" for the lower-income person to seek education or training to begin to earn a higher income, Florida's alimony provisions are extremely generous. In some situations (particularly those involving a later-in-life divorce, a long marriage, or an extreme difference in income levels), the higher-earning spouse may even be assessed an alimony payment with no end date.
For example, if you and your spouse are both 65, you have been married for 35 years, and your spouse left the workforce decades ago to take care of your children, you may be required to pay your spouse alimony for the rest of his or her life. This is because many courts will consider it unreasonable to ask someone age 65 to re-enter the workforce to become self-supporting (and save for retirement) after having been unemployed for decades.
Because of this potential for lifetime alimony, many who would otherwise file for divorce in Florida have delayed in doing so, or have relocated to other states in an attempt to avoid paying alimony for the next several decades. However, if your spouse still resides in Florida (and the marital home is headquartered there), your assets will likely still be split according to Florida law.
What changes may be coming to the alimony determination process?
Although the Florida legislature left an alimony bill unresolved during the 2015 legislative session, it's likely that in 2016 a law will be passed to limit the amount and duration of alimony payments that can be awarded to a lower-earning spouse. Proponents of this bill have pointed out the disparate treatment of high-earning individuals from county to county, and have fought for reforms that will clearly set out alimony guidelines to ensure that everyone divorcing in the state of Florida is subject to the same rules and restrictions.
Should this law come to pass, a higher-earning spouse will be required to pay no more than 55 percent of his or her gross income in alimony (and/or child support), and this alimony can last no longer than 75 percent of the length of the marriage.
This marks a tremendous potential change in alimony awards for divorcing spouses in their 30s, 40s, and 50s -- rather than potentially receiving alimony for 30 to 50 years or more, these spouses will be restricted to receiving alimony for a decade or two at most. Low-earning spouses will also be prevented from siphoning the majority of the higher-earning spouse's income in support payments, including child support.
What should you do if you're considering filing for divorce in Florida?
If you're still on the fence about divorcing, you may wish to delay your divorce filing until this proposed law has been finalized and implemented. However, if you and your spouse have a significant amount of assets, it's likely that it may be some time before your divorce provisions (including alimony) are finalized -- so filing your initial petition before the 2016 legislative session begins is unlikely to cause much harm. For more information, on other laws that may outside of Florida, check out sites like http://www.millsnv.com.