Options available to Florida alimony payors in times of financial uncertainty and unrest
At this time of personal and economic uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Floridians impacted by job loss or income reduction may find themselves unable to pay alimony obligations to ex-spouses. Or, an alimony payor could become unable to work if they suffer illness from the new coronavirus.
Substantial change in circumstances
In our state, involuntary decrease in income can be the basis of a request for modification of an alimony – also known as spousal support – obligation because of a substantial change in circumstances. This is done by filing a petition with the court asking for a reduction in the amount due because of reasons beyond the payor’s control.
Unintentional income loss
For example, in McIntosh v. McIntosh, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District, said that a divorced husband’s income reduction because of the loss of a major customer in his business was a proper reason to temporarily decrease his alimony obligation. In that case, his original alimony payment was $3,500 monthly based on an income of $143,000 yearly. The loss of the customer caused a reduction in annual income of $64,700.
The court explained that when there has been a substantial change in circumstances such as one that causes income loss significant enough to make alimony payments difficult or impossible and when the change in circumstances is unintentional or beyond the control of the payor, the alimony payment amount should be decreased to an amount payable at the new income level.
Payors’ good faith
In extreme circumstances, the court will order payments suspended, except when the payor is refusing to work or somehow willfully creating their own inability to pay. A suspension or reduction of alimony payments for this reason also depends on the payor making a good faith effort to restore the lost income level.
The Court of Appeal said that the husband’s 45% loss in gross salary was “sufficient to warrant a temporary modification” and that he should not have to sell marital assets he received in the divorce settlement to make alimony payments. The court also noted that an alimony payor should not have to borrow money to meet alimony obligations.
Temporary or permanent spousal support reduction
In such a case, if the payor is ultimately not able to regain their previous income level, the court should consider whether the modification should become permanent.
Each case is factually different and the outcome of a petition for alimony modification will vary accordingly, but it is likely that Florida courts would consider the current COVID-19 outbreak’s drastically negative impact on economic circumstances an appropriate basis for involuntary loss of income that may support a temporary or permanent alimony reduction or suspension.
(The case of McIntosh v. McIntosh is available on Westlaw at 915 So.2d 742.)