Red, white and the alimony blues

Postjudgment downward alimony modifications in Florida

Unfortunately, sometimes the fireworks of conflict never go away between some divorced parties. Sometimes, changed circumstances evolve after divorce that make an alimony arrangement inequitable.

When and how might a person who pays alimony to a former spouse be able to get the payments reduced? The payor may have lost their job, taken a new one at lower wages or had an increase in expenses like medical bills for an unplanned illness. When a change in circumstances makes ongoing payment of alimony at a certain level difficult, the paying ex-spouse may ask the Florida circuit court to reduce the amount paid.

Or, the recipient might have had a change in circumstances that would justify a reduction such as a drop in expenses, a new job with a raise or an increase in available assets that would justify reducing the alimony payments to him or her.

Changed circumstances and relevant factors

The state statute says that the court can modify an alimony award “as equity requires, giving due regard to the changed circumstances or the financial ability of the parties …” In other words, the court looks primarily at whether a reduction would be fair.

The payor may disagree with how the recipient spends the money, but that is normally not enough for the arrangement to be inequitable for purposes of reducing the alimony obligation. Likewise, other behavior on the part of the recipient with which the payor disapproves, including a dispute over visitation, is usually not grounds for reducing payments.

Instead, the court in assessing whether to decrease spousal support must look at “all relevant factors,” including the things Florida statute requires the court to weigh in an initial alimony award such as:

  • Marital living standard
  • Length of marriage
  • Parties’ ages and physical and mental health
  • Each of their income, financial resources and debts, including both marital and nonmarital assets
  • Earning capacity and employability of each ex-spouse
  • Contributions to the marriage and to the career of the other
  • Tax ramifications
  • Impact of caring for the parties’ minor children

Waiver

The initial alimony order in the divorce may have been based in an agreement between the parties or the judge may have crafted the spousal support award. In either case, Florida law allows a party to seek modification later in changed circumstances.

The exception is when the award was based on an agreement (such as a valid prenuptial or postmarital agreement or a marital settlement agreement at the time of divorce) that also contains a clear waiver by the parties of the right to seek modification later. A valid waiver deprives the parties of the right to return to court for a change.

 

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  • The Law Office of Daniel E. Forrest represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.
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