The primary factor that Florida courts consider in determining the length of an alimony award is the length of the marriage.
“For purposes of determining alimony, there is a rebuttable presumption that a short-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of less than 7 years, a moderate-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of greater than 7 years but less than 17 years, and long-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of 17 years or greater. The length of a marriage is the period of time from the date of marriage until the date of filing of an action for dissolution of marriage.” Fla. Stat. 61.08(4)
In sum, every marriage in Florida may be categorized as a short term marriage, medium term marriage, or a long term marriage.
In general, parties with short term marriages can only be awarded temporary alimony. Temporary alimony can fall into the categories of bridge-the-gap alimony, rehabilitative alimony and durational alimony. The trial court will determine which temporary alimony is appropriate in the case and award that alimony pursuant to the guidelines the statute lays out.
Bridge-the-gap alimony does not have a specific time frame but, rather, has specific expenses that the alimony must pay for. Once those expenses have been met, the alimony period is effectively over.
Rehabilitative alimony will have a more concrete timeline but, like bridge-the-gap alimony is more goal based. Rehabilitative alimony’s goal is to allow the alimony receiver the capacity to support themselves. This requires a specific written plan which usually involves a school schedule and completing a degree. If the alimony-receiver does not complete their goal of self-sufficiency, the rehabilitative alimony is likely to be cancelled if it is the alimony-receiver’s fault. If the alimony-receiver cannot be self-sufficient through no fault of their own, the rehabilitative alimony award is likely to be extended.
Conversely, parties with long term marriages can, generally, only be awarded permanent alimony. Permanent alimony can be terminated through the death of one of the parties, if the alimony-receiver remarries or cohabitates, or if there has been a “substantial change of circumstances”. Permanent alimony really isn’t permanent a retirement (or just reaching age 65) is always considered sufficient reason to reduce or terminate alimony.
So how long will alimony last for the medium term marriages? Florida courts will consider numerous factors. Certainly, the courts will again consider the length of the marriage. A 16 year marriage will receive a longer duration of alimony than an 8 year old marriage.
For medium term marriages, Florida courts will also consider the status of the parties and marriage as a whole. “An award of permanent alimony is appropriate where a spouse has remained at home caring for the family, rather than pursued a career, for a significant time period during the marriage.” Alcantara v. Alcantara, 15 So. 3d 844 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009)
If you marry the same person twice, the court has the option of adding the years of both marriages when determining the marriage was short, medium or long term. Thomas v. Thomas, 571 So. 2d 499 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990)
Finally, alimony can end immediately if the parties agree to lump sum alimony where the alimony payor awards the other party a greater share of the marital estate (or even non-marital funds) to avoid any future alimony payments. Please be advised that it is very important how lump sum alimony is labelled in your marital settlement agreement because on July 1, 2019 alimony becomes taxable to the payor whereas a division of assets pursuant to a divorce decree is not taxable.
The important thing to remember is that the trial judge has enormous power when the statute does not limit him or her to award short or long-term marriage. Your Collier County trial judge can determine not only the length of the alimony but the amount of the alimony as well.
Contact my Naples, Florida family law office to discuss the length of alimony in your pending Collier County divorce.