New Article Retroactive Alimony Gets the Pluto Treatment

My new article “Retroactive Alimony Gets the Pluto Treatment”, discusses a new, judicially created controversy in Florida law about alimony. The dispute has mostly been eclipsed by the July changes to the state’s alimony statute. The article is now available in the Florida Family Law Section’s Commentator magazine.

Retroactive Alimony

Pluto in Retrograde

Pluto was discovered on February 18, 1930. The existence of a new, unknown planet made international news, and “Pluto Day” has been celebrated on February 18th ever since. But decades later, on August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union rejected Pluto as the ninth planet.

Retroactive alimony suffered a similar fate. Florida courts have been making alimony awards retroactive since at least 1982. But decades later, on December 22, 2022, a Florida appeals court rejected the legality of retroactive alimony.

Florida Alimony Reform

I’ve written about alimony in Florida before. In every Florida divorce case, the court can grant alimony to either party. Not many people realize there were several types of alimony in Florida: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational – and before July 1st – permanent alimony.

Florida courts can also award a combination of alimony types in a divorce. Alimony awards are normally paid in periodic payments, but sometimes the payments can be in a lump sum or both lump sum and periodic payments.

In Florida, once a court determines there is a need and the income available to pay alimony – sometimes referred to as the ability to pay alimony – it has to decide the proper type and amount of alimony. When alimony is awarded retroactively, the court order simply awards alimony back in time to the date of the filing of the petition.

New Horizons

Interest in Pluto was reignited after NASA launched the New Horizons space probe from Florida, finding interesting features on the formerly ninth planet. Similarly, news about alimony was reignited after the governor launched CS/SB 1416 from Florida’s capitol, making interesting changes to the alimony statute.

The most talked about feature of the new law is that permanent alimony, which is sometimes called lifetime alimony, was wiped away like Pluto’s status as a planet. The elimination of permanent alimony leaves only bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, and durational forms of alimony.

However, rehabilitative alimony has now been limited to five years. Additionally, durational alimony is now not awardable to people married for less than three years. But, if a couple has been married 20 years or longer, they will be eligible to receive payments for up to 75 percent of the length of the marriage.

The Commentator article is available in the Summer 2023 issue here.