Tag: alimony and retirement

Alimony Reform, Marriage Length, and Permanent Alimony

Does the length of your marriage matter for alimony anymore? Some people are asking that after a recent decision by a Florida appeals court re-wrote the rules for measuring what a long-term marriage is. The Regular Session of the Florida legislature convened in January, and alimony reform is a hot topic in Tallahassee.

Trouble in Tallahassee

The Florida House of Representatives is currently convening in Tallahassee to debate House Bill 843 on Dissolution of Marriage. The bill makes a few changes to the divorce statutes, especially alimony.

The bill also redefines the amount and duration for bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, and durational alimony, prohibits ordering a spouse who retired prior to a divorce to pay any alimony, except temporary alimony, unless the court determines otherwise and allows payors to modify alimony up to 12 months before his or her anticipated retirement.

The bill removes presumptions about the length of a short, moderate, or long-term marriage, eliminating permanent alimony (but allowing it if agreed to), prioritizing bridge-the-gap alimony, followed by rehabilitative alimony, before any other form.

Meanwhile, across town in Tallahassee, a recent appeals case from the First District Court of Appeal may throw fuel on the fire. After 16 years and 11 months of marriage, a husband asked for dissolution of the marriage.

The judge granted permanent alimony to the wife. The husband appealed saying the trial court should not have awarded permanent alimony, and should instead have given her durational alimony.

Why? The husband argued they were only married 16 years and 11 months — that’s just one-month shy of the statutory presumption of a “long-term” marriage under Florida statutes. But the trial court treated his marriage as if it were a long-term marriage of 17-years or more – even though it clearly was less.

Florida and the Length of Marriage

In Florida, the duration of a marriage always played a very important role in divorce cases. I’ve written about the types of alimony awards available in Florida before. For instance, Florida Statutes dealing with alimony specifically limit the type of alimony awards based on the duration of the marriage.

For determining alimony, there is a rebuttable presumption that a short-term marriage is a marriage less than 7-years, a moderate-term marriage is greater than 7-years but less than 17-years, and long-term marriage is 17-years or greater.

Florida defines the duration of marriage as the period of time from the date of marriage until the date of filing of an action for dissolution of marriage.

In addition to alimony, the duration of marriage is also a factor in property divisions. When a court distributes the marital assets and liabilities between the parties, the court begins with the premise of an equal split.

Changes to Alimony?

The appellate court ruled that despite the statute, being one month shy of the statutory definition of “long-term” was a de minimis period given the length of the marriage, and that the family law judge was allowed to overcome the presumption as to the length of the marriage to qualify it as a long-term marriage.

In Florida, we have a rebuttable presumption that a long-term marriage warrants an award of permanent alimony. This court argued that even if the parties’ marriage falls into the “grey area” between a long and a short-term marriage, the family judge can consider other factors beyond the duration of the marriage.

Other factors can include the earning capacity of the recipient of alimony. For instance, there was evidence that the wife’s health precludes employment. While she was just 53 years of age at the time of the divorce, her age was not a valid basis to deny permanent alimony absent evidence her relative youth would allow her to earn income sufficient to support a lifestyle consistent with that she enjoyed during the marriage.

What impact will this decision have on the Legislature, since they are considering scrapping permanent alimony altogether, and re-writing the rules around what the duration of a marriage is?

The new bill will require courts to consider the standard of living established during the marriage, and make specific consideration of the needs and necessities of life for each party after the marriage is dissolved, including a rebuttable presumption that both parties will inevitably have a lower standard of living than that which they enjoyed during the marriage.

The court of appeals opinion is here.

 

Proving Income for Alimony in the Big Apple

Former New York City Mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, filed for divorce and set off a rancorous battle, in part, over how much income the former Mayor actually makes. Proving his income is important for determining her alimony and can be a tough question in the Big Apple.

income divorce big apple

It’s up to you New York

In caustic legal proceedings the couple has battled over many things like kitchen renovations, splurges of $7,131 on fountain pens and $12,012 on cigars. But the primary issue is Mr. Giuliani’s current income.

His wife believes that Mr. Giuliani left his law firm, Greenberg Traurig, in 2018, a month after the divorce was filed, and chose to work for President Trump pro bono in order to reduce any future alimony.

Mr. Giuliani earned $7.9 million in 2016 and $9.5 million in 2017, funding the couple’s roughly $230,000 a month lifestyle. In 2018, the year he began working for the president, Mr. Giuliani’s earnings dipped to $6.8 million, and he has suggested that this year’s income will be well below that.

Mr. Giuliani now gives his wife $42,000 a month, as well as covering other bills, including the carrying costs for their properties, as ordered by Judge Katz in February. Mrs. Giuliani must pay for the landscaping at their home in Southampton.

Mrs. Giuliani says she had no choice but to take him to court, to prove what he is actually worth financially and to get what she believes she is fairly entitled to.

Florida Alimony

I’ve written about the very public circus-like Giuliani divorce before, and on the subject of alimony in Florida. In every Florida dissolution of marriage case, the court can grant alimony to either party – husband or wife.

Not many people realize there are several types of alimony in Florida: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or 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 determining whether to award alimony or not, the court has to first make a determination as to whether a wife or a husband, has an actual need for alimony, and whether the other party has the ability to pay alimony.

Proving the ability to pay is one of the central issues in the Giuliani divorce right now because his income dropped right before he filed for divorce. Typically, courts consider any type of earned income or compensation — that is, income resulting from employment or other efforts — along with recurring passive income, such as dividends on your investments, in establishing the amount of support you will be responsible to pay.

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. In doing so, the court considers several factors, some of which can include:

  • The standard of living established during the marriage.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party.
  • The financial resources of each party, including the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.
  • The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties and, when applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable such party to find appropriate.

But, after establishing a need for alimony, how much income is there to determine ability to pay?

Life in the Big Apple

Mrs. Giuliani said in an interview.

“I feel betrayed by a man that I supported in every way for more than 20 years, I’m sad to know that the hero of 9/11 has become a liar.”

But to hear Mr. Giuliani’s circle and his legal team tell it, Mrs. Giuliani’s endgame tactics are merely an extension of her personality, which they have not and do not describe kindly.

They portray her as being a social climber through marriage, someone who rose from her background as a nurse by marrying twice, before meeting the mayor of New York City.

And once she found her third husband, Mrs. Giuliani was accused of pushing her new husband’s children and many of his nearest friends away in an effort to control him.

“She has put 20 years into this relationship,” said her friend Andrea Ackerman, a real estate agent from whom she has purchased six homes. “She is not folding. Not this time, uh-uh.”

If there is one regret for Mr. Giuliani as his life once again upends in public, it is that his personal problems end up ensnaring the people around him, he said in an interview:

“Everybody’s life around you is being disrupted. You get the pain of that, but also you get the satisfaction of what it means to be in public office — they don’t. There is a certain amount of guilt in that.”

The New York Times article is here.

 

Florida Alimony Reform Sausage

It’s been said laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. If true, then it’s best you not read the two new Florida alimony reform bills recently introduced into the Florida House and Senate. For the unafraid, below are a few provisions of the House bill worth watching.

Alimony Reform

The Current Chorizo

In Florida, alimony is awarded to a spouse when there is a need for it, and the other spouse has the ability to pay for alimony. As I have written before, alimony can take various forms.

For example, alimony can be awarded to “bridge the gap” between married and single life. This is usually a short-term form of alimony, and in fact, can’t exceed two years.

Alimony can be rehabilitative – to help a party in establishing the capacity for self-support by developing skills or credentials; or acquiring education, training, or work experience.

Durational Alimony is awarded when permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate. The purpose of durational alimony is to provide you with economic assistance for a time after a short or moderate term marriage, or even long marriages, if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis.

Permanent Alimony is awarded to provide for your needs and necessities of life as they were established during your marriage, if you lack the financial ability to meet your needs and necessities of life following a divorce.

The House Hot Dog

Alimony reform is a nationwide phenomenon.

Currently, there are two bills in Florida trying to be passed to amend our alimony statute and impact other statutes. However, many state bills, like Florida’s, are in progress, or are constantly evolving.

This year’s two bills fundamentally change many family law statutes and cases. Briefly, what we consider to be long and short marriages would change. This is an important measuring stick, because the types of alimony granted can change depending on the duration of a marriage.

Right now, for purposes of determining alimony, there is a presumption that a short-term marriage is less than 7 years, a moderate-term marriage is greater than 7 years but less than 17 years, and a long-term marriage is 17 years or more.

Under the new House bill, a long-term marriage would be 20 years or more, a mid-term marriage would be more than 11 years but less than 20 years, and a short-term marriage would be a marriage of less than 11 years.

Another proposed change concerns the type of alimony. Right now, when a court determines the type and amount of alimony, the court weighs several factors, including, the standard of living, the age and the physical and emotional condition of the parties and sources of income available to pay alimony.

Under the new House bill, a trial court awarding alimony would have to prioritize an award of bridge-the-gap alimony, followed by rehabilitative alimony, over any other forms of alimony. Additionally, the new bill eliminates permanent alimony.

The Equal Time-Sharing Bratwurst

Florida has a public policy that each child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or divorce and tries to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.

However, there is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying a parenting plan of the child.

The new House bill would dramatically alter the law. The proposed bill would make it Florida law that equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is in the best interest of the child unless the court finds one of the stated reasons not to.

The House bill is available here.

 

Alimony Modification

Florida law allows you to lower what you pay in alimony each month, increase your alimony payments, or terminate alimony payments altogether. A recent Florida case is an interesting example why alimony modification is a hot issue.

Alimony modification

Florida Alimony Modification

There are a few reasons why alimony can be modified. Dramatic changes in health, inability to go back to work (due to disability, injury, etc.), substantial raise in pay, big gifts or lottery winnings, loss of job, and of course, retirement are the major forces behind alimony modification.

I’ve written about alimony modification before. In Florida, to modify alimony, the payor has to show three fundamental things: a substantial change in circumstances, the change was not contemplated at the time of the final judgment of dissolution, and that the change is sufficient, material, involuntary and permanent in nature.

The Supreme Court of Florida has addressed the impact of retirement on support obligations in Florida. To determine whether a voluntary retirement is reasonable, courts must consider, in part, the payor’s age, health, and motivation for retirement, the type of work, and the age at which others engaged in that line of work normally retire.

In Florida there’s been a debate about whether these reasons for modifying alimony have to be “unanticipated” or can they be reasons everyone knew about. That dispute was recently settled here.

Retirement Accounts

In a recent Florida case, the trial judge and the spouses did not take into consideration the eventual income that the former wife would receive from her retirement and annuity accounts without penalty, once she reached retirement age when they drafted their settlement agreement more than 10 years ago.

Her former husband asked the court for an alimony modification – even though he had not retired and had the ability to pay the required alimony – because the former wife’s retirement accounts had appreciated, and she had reached the age of 59 ½, so she could take distributions without penalty.

The family court judge agreed to grant an alimony modification, and the former wife appealed. The former wife argued that her ability to access the retirement accounts without penalty was not an unanticipated change in circumstances, and alimony may not be modified in Florida for anticipated changes in circumstances.

The appellate court, agreed with the former husband, and sustained the alimony modification. Given that their agreement was silent as to what would happen once the former wife could access the funds in retirement accounts, the retirement accounts had not been taken into consideration to determine the former wife’s income.

The appellate decision is here.