House Bill 943 is up for discussion in the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow, and if it becomes law, it will drastically change alimony as we know it. The Bill would completely change how Courts currently consider alimony awards, by among other things:
1. defining how to determine the parties’ income and whether to impute income to the husband or wife;
2. creating guidelines that the courts should follow based on the years of the marriage and the difference in the parties’ income to determine both the amount of an alimony award and the duration;
3. limiting modifications of alimony to the amount and not the duration; and
4. Setting forth factors a court should consider in deciding if a supportive relationship exists that would warrant a modification or termination of alimony.
If the Bill becomes law this session, courts would have to look at the length of the marriage to determine whether or not it is appropriate to award alimony. Any marriage of less than 2 years comes with a presumption that an alimony award is not appropriate. Still, the presumption can be overcome if a requesting party proves by clear and convincing evidence that they have a need, the other party has the ability to pay, and a failure to award alimony would be inequitable under the circumstances.
For marriages over two years, there is a presumption in favor of the courts completing the proposed guidelines calculations for both an amount and a time duration that alimony should be paid. The Bill sets forth both a top and bottom calculation for each, creating a guideline range (somewhat similar to how the Criminal Punishment Code works!)
For the Amount Range, the low end calculation is (.015 x years of marriage) x (difference in gross income of parties)
The high end calculation is (.02 x years of marriage) x (difference in gross income of parties)
So…. for a couple in which the Husband makes 300,000 per year and the wife earns $50,000 per year, with a 20 year marriage, the low end amount would be $75,000 annually and the high end of the range would be $100,000 annually.
For the Duration Range, the low end shall be .25 x years of marriage, and the high end shall be .75 x years of marriage. So for a twenty year marriage, the length of time the alimony should be paid would be 5 – 15 years. The Bill sets out several factors that the courts should consider in deciding if the amount and duration should fall within the top or bottom of the guidelines for a particular case. If the court establishes the duration at 50% or less of the length of the marriage, the court shall use actual years of marriage up to 25 years to calculate the high end of the amount. Otherwise, the length of the marriage will be capped at 20 years for purposes of determining the high end of the amount.
If, after doing the calculation, the entire range is in the negative numbers, no alimony should be awarded.
The Courts can deviate from the guidelines, however they must make written findings supported by the evidence showing why the guidelines in that case would produce an inequitable result.
Under no circumstances can an award of child support and alimony together equal more than 55% of the payor’s income.
The Bill goes further to set forth that alimony amounts can be modified, but the duration that is set forth in the original divorce decree will not be modified. It can however be terminated upon the death of either spouse, or the marriage or supportive relationship of the receiving spouse. The Bill would modify how a supportive relationship is determined, and co-habitation is not a required factor. The Bill also clarifies that the retirement of the paying spouse is a viable reason for a modification.
If it sounds complicated, it is! This is cutting edge stuff that has not become law yet, but probably will. A similar bill was passed 2 sessions ago, but vetoed by the governor due to its retroactive provisions among other things. In any event, the House Judiciary Committee will take a look at it tomorrow, and from there it may or may not become our newest version of the Florida alimony law.
If you have questions about alimony contact us today for a confidential consultation.