Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature passed a number of amendments to the State’s alimony and child support laws, all of which were approved by Governor Charlie Crist. While the Act goes into effect on January 1, 2011, the alimony law changes, discussed below, apply to all initial awards of alimony entered after July 1, 2010, and modifications of such awards. How significant are these changes? Some of the changes were written to clarify existing statutes; other changes are quite substantial. For example, the amendments now specifically delineate definitions and parameters for various forms of alimony. Further, the factors to be considered in whether to award alimony or maintenance – or neither – have been revised to include additional considerations. More detail has been added to the child support guidelines, but if earnings are not provided, the amendments create a presumption of census-level wages. Let’s take a closer look.
Four Types of Alimony
As mentioned, the amendments now codify the various types of alimony – bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, and permanent—and also create a new form of alimony – durational.
Bridge-the-gap alimony is new in some districts and supports legitimate, identifiable short-term needs. It is designed to assist a party transitioning from being married to being single and cannot exceed two years.
Durational alimony is a new form of alimony created by the amendments and may be appropriate following a marriage of short or moderate duration. It provides a party with economic assistance for a set period of time – but never longer than the marriage itself.
Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to provide a party with the education, training or experience necessary to develop (or redevelop) skills or credentials that will ultimately lead to self-support. There must be a clearly defined plan to receive this form of award, which may be modified or terminated due to a substantial change in circumstances or upon completion of the plan – or noncompliance.
Permanent alimony is awarded to provide for the needs and necessities of life as established during the course of the parties’ marriage for a party who lacks the financial ability to meet his or her own needs. It is awarded for marriages of long duration, but can be awarded in moderate- and short- term marriages if appropriate factors are found to exist or in exceptional circumstances, respectively.
How is the Length of a Marriage Defined?
The amendments now classify lengths of marriage. The date of separation is no longer a factor; rather, the length of a marriage is determined from the date of marriage until the date of filing for dissolution.
Short term marriage < 7 years
Moderate term marriage is > 7 years but < 17
Long term marriage is > 17 years.
Determining Alimony or Maintenance…or Neither
The amendments revised the factors to be considered in whether to award alimony or maintenance. First the court will need to determine whether either party has an actual need for alimony or maintenance and whether either party has the ability to pay alimony or maintenance. If need and ability are established, then the court can determine the proper type and amount of alimony or maintenance based on a number of relevant factors – some of which have changed, such as:
- 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 employment.
- The responsibilities each party will have with regard to any minor children they have in common.
- All sources of income available to either party, including income available to either party through investments of any asset held by that party.
Child Support and Time Sharing
The most significant changes made by the amendments to child support and timesharing include:
- The elimination of the statute’s prior reduction of 25% of total childcare costs so that the full child-care cost is now included in child support calculations.
- The expansion of the factors for deviation from the child support guidelines to include the Child & Dependent Care Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
- The change of the “substantial contact” adjustment from 40% of overnights to 20%, so that if a child spends a significant amount of time — now, 20% of the overnights of the year—with one parent, the calculation of the child support can be adjusted. This amounts to 73 overnights annually.
In addition to the amendments to the existing statute, a new statute was created to establish the State of Florida’s public policy behind child support – that each parent has a fundamental obligation to support his or her minor or legally dependent child, with an amount based on the parents’ combined net income.