Sustainable Alimony Awards in Divorce
In this case, the Final Judgment of divorce awarded the Former Wife $ 30,000 per month in permanent, periodic alimony. The Former Husband appealed to the First District Court of Appeal which held that the alimony award constituted reversible error because the Judgment lacked the requisite findings and was not based upon competent, substantial evidence.
Dr. and Mrs. Gray were married in 1992 while Dr. Gray was still in medical school. The record revealed that Mrs. Gray, who worked in public relations, supported the family while Dr. Gray completed medical school, his internship and his residence. The marriage lasted seventeen years, during which the parties had four children who ranged in age from 5-12 on the date that the divorce petition was filed. The parties ultimately agreed on the child-centric issues (child support, timesharing, etc) but proceeded to trial on the issues of property division and alimony.
At trial, the evidence established that Dr. Gray had an annual income of $ 220,000 from his medical practice as well as distributions from a non-marital trust worth ten million dollars. On the contrary, Mrs. Gray was unemployed based upon the partiesâ€™ mutual decision that she would stay at home to care for the minor children. However, the evidence did establish that she had a Bachelorâ€™s degree and could earn $ 45,000 dollars a year within a period of about six months.
In support of her alimony claim, Mrs. Gray submitted a financial affidavit which declared that her non-child expenses amounted to $ 17,907 per month. However, in its final divorce decree, the Trial Court awarded her $ 30,000 per month in permanent, alimony.
Permanent alimony is provided to ensure that a spouse does not pass from prosperity to misfortune but instead is permitted to enjoy the standard of living acquired during the marriage. In order to calculate the amount of alimony necessary to accomplish this goal, the Courts generally assess a partyâ€™s need (i.e. reasonable expenses) and off-set those expenses with his or her income. This deficit between expenses and income is generally the most an alimony award should be (subject to the payorâ€™s ability to pay the alimony).
Further, with regard to an unemployed spouse seeking an award of alimony, the Court may impute income based upon his or her qualifications and available jobs in the area. In any case, in order to render an appropriate alimony award; the Court must make specific findings applying the evidence to the statutory factors set forth in Florida Statute Â§ 61.08. In this case, the appellate court found that the court failed to set forth specific findings with regard to the Wifeâ€™s need for alimony, the Husbandâ€™s ability to pay the awarded alimony and its refusal to impute income to the Wife for purposes of calculating the alimony. In the absence of these factors, the alimony award was deemed reversible error as a matter of law.
Although receiving a large alimony award at trial is the goal of most divorce litigants; it simply does no good unless the award can stand up to appellate scrutiny. In a case like this, where the trial courtâ€™s alimony award is eventually overturned, the initial decision (while emotionally satisfying for the recipient) ends up costing both parties a great deal in terms of time, money and stress. Therefore, it is important to have an experienced and trusted divorce lawyer who can help guide you through the divorce process while attempting to ensure that any alimony (or property division) awards are ultimately sustainable.
The lawyers of the Ferraro Law Group have been litigating divorce and alimony cases in Stuart, Florida for more than thirty years.