If My Finances Have Changed, Can I Ask the Court to Change My Alimony Order?
After a divorce, it is common for finances to look significantly different and may result in instability in your life. However, if your financial circumstances have taken a significant change since your original divorce decree, your alimony award may need to be modified. If you feel that your differing circumstances may qualify you for a modification, consult your Orlando Divorce Attorney who can assess your situation and find out if you qualify for a modification under the law.
The primary purpose of alimony, is to provide financially for a spouse of lesser means during and after a divorce, preserving the lifestyle and family. Fla. Stat. 61.001(2)(a), (c)(2012). The first step in determining an alimony award is determined by Florida statute. Fla. Stat. 61.08(2) requires the court to 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.” This step remains the same in a modification of an award. The court must take note of the need and ability to pay of each party. Beyond this initial determination, the court must find that certain factors exist in order for a modification to be legally grounded. Florida statute requires a substantial change in circumstances, the change was unanticipated, and the change is sufficient, material, involuntary and permanent. The idea of substantial, unanticipated, and involuntary have been difficult terms to define in the courts. Therefore, it is important to look to prior case law to find if you fall into the category of substantial change meriting a modification.
Most common, a former spouse will obtain a modification due to a loss of career. The courts have found an involuntary loss of employment where similar salary has been sought in good faith but unable to obtain to be a cause for modification of an alimony award. However, even if a job is lost, it is critical to bring evidence before the court that you have sought other employment to no avail. Further, some courts have held that a decrease in income for a year or more is necessary to prove that financial loss of a job. Bennett v. Dept. of Revenue, 664 So. 2d 33, 34 (Fla. 5th DCA 1005). If you or your former partner have lost employment and can no longer afford your alimony payments, contact an Orlando Divorce Attorney to help you gather the proper evidence needed in order to prove your financial circumstances.
In contrast, some parties have brought a modification action before the court due to a voluntary leave from employment. However, if you voluntarily leave your employment the court will not find this to be a substantial change warranting a modification. Rather, the court has the power to impute income to the unemployed or underemployed spouse. Similarly, the court has held that a payor is not entitled to a reduction in alimony payments because of their voluntary decision to incur new debt making it difficult to meet their support obligation. Cowie v. Cowie, 564 So. 2d 533 (Fla. 2d DCA 1990). Therefore, if your spouse has failed to meet their support obligations due to a voluntary loss of employment or incurring of new debt, it is important to bring this to the attention of your Orlando Divorce Attorney to protect your right to the financial support you are entitled to.
Finally, if your spouse has experienced financial growth increasing their ability to pay, this fact alone will not support a modification. The petitioning party must also show there is an increased need in combination with the increased ability to pay. Bedwell v. Bedell, 583 So. 2d 1005 (Fla. 1991). Therefore, you will likely not qualify for a modification of an award if you are unable to show an increase in need of financial support.
Significant changes can come in the form of loss of employment, significant health issues, or new relationships. However, it is necessary to prove these instances as substantial before the court, and can be decided on a case by case basis. If you feel that a change in the financial situation surrounding you or your spouse is significant enough to warrant a modification to your existing support order, contact your attorney who can help you present evidence to support the need for modification that will match the new situation.
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