Common knowledge of how divorce works is usually picked up in bits and pieces from pop culture, almost all of which comes out of California television studios. In reality, there are 50 states with their own individual divorce laws. So, while television shows have long mentioned “standard of living” when discussing alimony, Florida’s laws determine how alimony actually works in Naples, Florida.
In analyzing any Florida divorce we first look to the Florida statutes. “the court shall first make a specific factual determination as to whether either party has an actual need for alimony or maintenance and whether either party has the ability to pay alimony or maintenance.” Fla. Stat. Sec. 61.08(2)
The statute doesn’t elaborate on what the “need” for alimony is, specifically, so we look to various Florida cases for guidance.
“In determining the amount of alimony, the trial court should ensure that each party’s standard of living comes as close as possible to the prior lifestyle, given the available financial resources.” Kelly v. Kelly 925 So. 2d 364 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006). The court looks at the standard of living as it existed at the end of the marriage. Greene v. Greene, 895 So. 2d 503 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005)
So, “needs” is completely relative to the couple getting divorced. In 1978, an appeals court decided that an alimony higher than the trial judge’s was too low considering the parties’ wealth. McCloskey v. McCloskey, 359 So. 2d 494 (Fla. 4th DCA 1978)
Naples, Florida is a place famous for having a high standard of living. That means it’s also a place where the finding of “needs” for the purposes of alimony will also be famously high.
So, how is “needs” then determined? Is it based on income, savings, or consumption? The Florida Supreme Court decided that “need” is determined by the consumption (spending) of the parties at the end of their marriage NOT their income or wealth. Mallard v. Mallard, 771 So. 2d 1138 (Fla. 2000)
What if the parties were spending more money than they were making at the end of the marriage? In this case, only the expenditures that could have been funded from the current income of the parties should be considered in determining the “need” of the alimony receiving spouse. Goodman v. Goodman, 797 So 2d 1282 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001).
Keep in mind that while this standard sounds generous (especially to the alimony-payor) it does not require that all post-divorce income be equalized so that both parties are earning, effectively, the same amount after alimony.
In fact, there are a great deal of practical considerations that can reduce alimony after the consumption of the parties at the end of the marriage is determined.
Some instances of consumption can be found as non-includable in the consumption calculation as they have nothing to do with the spouse’s current lifestyle. Examples are supporting an adult child, payments for a pre-paid funeral fund, and premiums for long-term care insurance. Wolfe v. Wolfe, 953 So. 2d 632 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007)
Of course, if the parties have children one of their biggest expenses will be the expenses for those children and that expense should not be calculated for the purposes of alimony. The expenses for the children should be resolved via child support. Cox v. Cox, 10 So. 3d 180 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009)
The consumption of the parties will not remain the same when each party has their own household post-divorce. After a divorce, for example, it cannot be expected that a $ 100,000 income is going to fund two $ 75,000 lifestyles. The ability of the alimony-payor is the biggest impediment to the alimony-receiver getting an alimony amount that matches his or her “need” as discussed above.