One of the most contentious issues in a divorce is an award of spousal support or alimony. As time passes and life continues, your financial situation at the time of your divorce may look very different in the present day. If you or your former spouse’s financial situation has substantially changed since the entry of your divorce, you may consider filing a petition to modify your alimony award. Regardless of the situation, stopping your alimony payments is not an option. Failure to pay your support obligations could result in contempt of court, leading to serious legal penalties. However, Florida law does provide avenues for a modification or even a complete termination of an alimony award if there is a substantial change in circumstances of either the payor or payee. Contact your attorney today to discuss your options in seeking a modification of your alimony award.
Florida Statute Section 61.14(1)(a) provides “[E]ither party may apply to the circuit court . . . for an order decreasing or increasing the amount of . . . support, maintenance, or alimony, and the court has jurisdiction to make orders as equity requires, with due regard to the changed circumstances or the financial ability of the parties . . . decreasing, increasing, or confirming the amount of separate support, maintenance, or alimony provided for in the agreement or order.”
Case law has interpreted this statute to: (1) either party must experience a substantial change in circumstances, (2) this change was unanticipated at the time of the entry of the final judgment of dissolution, and (3) the change is permanent, involuntary and material.
The court has seen a substantial change in circumstances of the payor or of the payee in many different forms. A substantial change can include health issues, disability, involuntary unemployment, gifts or inheritance, promotion in career, lottery winnings, retirement, payee remarriage or engagement in a “supportive relationship.” However, in order for these changes to hold weight they must also be unanticipated, permanent, involuntary and material. For instance, the court does not consider a spouse voluntarily leaving their employment or expense of a second marriage to be a substantial change resulting in a modification of an alimony award. Your attorney can explain these substantial changes in more detail during your consultation.
Further, court will not discharge your alimony obligation due to bankruptcy proceedings. When an individual files for bankruptcy, an automatic stay halts debt collection attempts made by creditors. However, this process does not halt your alimony or child support obligations. These funds are necessary to assist your former spouse and are separate from the debt that you owe and may not be discharged.
One progressive movement by the Florida legislature affecting the substantial change requirement is the definition of a supportive relationship. Florida law used to require a legally binding marriage to substantiate a termination of alimony. However, Florida law now recognizes a supportive relationship as an equally substantial change to substantiate a claim of modification. In order to prove a supportive relationship, the court may look to cohabitation, sharing of bills, holding each other out as husband and wife, and the length of cohabitation.
Finally, when filing a motion for modification of alimony the “court may modify an order of support, maintenance, or alimony by increasing or decreasing the support, maintenance, or alimony retroactively to the date of the filing of the action,” as well as future support payments. Therefore, it could be financially smart to contact your attorney and file at the earliest sign of substantial change in circumstances.
Changes in financial circumstances after a divorce are not uncommon. If you or your former spouse have had significant changes to your financial situation that you feel should qualify for an alimony modification, contact your lawyer to begin the process today. Speak to one of our Orlando divorce attorneys if you are facing an alimony modification case. We accept calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at 800-822-5171 or complete an online contact form to get in touch with a member of our team today. We also have offices in Panama City, Fort Walton, Pensacola, and Tallahassee Florida.