What Is Alimony?

Are you involved in a divorce or separated from your spouse? Do you want to know if you have a right to ask for alimony or if you are going to be ordered to pay alimony? Alimony, usually referred to as spousal support, is the payment of money made from one spouse to the other for upkeep and maintenance toward living as part of a divorce or during separation. Alimony can be awarded to either spouse who requests it and is discretionary if left up to a court. Some frequently asked questions are:

1. What if we have money, property and debts, does that mean the court is going to award alimony? 

Before deciding on alimony, the money, property and debts of the marriage, known as the assets and liabilities, are fairly divided between the spouses. In practice, this means the spouse requesting alimony may no longer need alimony because they received money or property as part of the divorce that brought them to a similar financial position with the other spouse. Alternatively, the court can give both property from the marriage and alimony to the same spouse because of the difference in the existing earning abilities between the spouses due to the requesting spouse remaining out of the workforce to stay home and care for the children during the marriage.

2. What does the court consider in deciding to award alimony? 

The court is required to make two separate determinations when deciding to award alimony: 1) whether the requesting spouse is entitled to alimony and 2) what amount to award and in which form. The court considers the financial need of the requesting spouse, the ability of the non-requesting party to pay, and the standard of living established during the marriage. Because these factors are open to interpretation, the spouses can choose to negotiate alimony or make arguments to the court for or against alimony.

3. Does alimony depend on the length of my marriage? 

The length of the marriage can affect alimony. There is a presumption in favor of alimony in long-term marriages and against alimony in short-term marriages.

4. How much alimony can the court award? 

Florida does not have specific guidelines to determine the amount of alimony to order in each case, like with child support. The court considers the circumstances between the spouses to determine a fair amount of alimony. Once an amount is determined, the court determines in what form to give the alimony. The court can order alimony on a temporary or permanent basis and payments to be made periodically, in lump sums, or both. Temporary alimony is paid over a shorter period of time as compared to permanent alimony which is paid until the remarriage of the receiving spouse or the death of either party.

5. Will the court award alimony if my spouse was unfaithful during the marriage or is currently living with someone else? 

The fact adultery occurred in and of itself does not entitle the faithful spouse to alimony. Since Florida is a no-fault divorce state, it does not matter that one party was unfaithful during the marriage and it is actually improper for an attorney to plead to the court on behalf of their client claiming adultery. However, allegations of adultery can be relevant in a divorce or during separation when the adultery causes waste of marital assets or causes a financial hardship for the faithful spouse. Also, when either spouse leaves the marital home and begins living with someone else or if a companion moves into the marital home during the absence of the other spouse, the live-in companion’s financial help may be considered additional income because they reduced living expenses.

6. Are there any other considerations with alimony? 

Alimony given during the divorce or separation raises questions of tax consequences. The spouses should consider whether paying alimony can be claimed as a deduction or if receiving alimony will have to be reported as income for purposes of their tax returns.

Dissolutions and separations are difficult and can leave the parties financially unbalanced. Being fully informed about the available options and understanding the law can help determine if alimony is appropriate in your case.

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