Coronavirus layoffs: How fast can you modify Florida alimony payments?

As the state of Florida slowly opens, the 17th Judicial Circuit Courts in Broward County will open with limited services provided by the Clerk of Courts on June 1, but courtrooms remain physically closed to the public. As of this May 27 writing, Broward County courts are still operating using remote teleconferencing, including family law matters like modification of alimony. Floridians bringing or responding to petitions to modify alimony may participate in any related hearings via remote attendance.

Alimony in a time of economic challenge

In a more prosperous time before the current coronavirus outbreak the alimony agreements to which people agreed or the arrangements judges created made sense considering the relative financial circumstances of divorcing parties. But we are currently in an unprecedented time of income reduction, loss, interruption or stoppage. As the media reports daily, Floridians are experiencing:

  • Business closures or contraction
  • Job loss or income reduction because of the need for childrearing at home when school is closed
  • Layoffs or furloughs
  • Interruption of nonessential business activity
  • Income loss from illness or death
  • Lower wages from business operation at reduced capacity
  • Cancellation of new positions
  • And other COVID-19-related financial strain

Unintentional loss of income

So, when a Florida spousal support payor has a corresponding reduction in income that makes it impossible or difficult to continue to pay at the level that made sense before, they can file a petition in state court requesting an alimony amount decrease based on unintentional income loss from circumstances beyond the paying ex-spouse’s control.

Earlier in the coronavirus outbreak, we explained in a detailed post the process and standards that apply to a petition to modify alimony. If circumstances support it, the judge may either reduce the payment or in an extreme case, suspend them. These changes are likely to be temporary, but if the loss becomes long term, potentially permanent.

Each request for alimony modification is unique, but the court will consider whether the petition has been filed in good faith. In other words, is there any evidence that the payor somehow contributed to the lower income or is not trying in good faith to restore it?

How long will it take for the court to consider and decide the request?

There is no exact answer to the question of how quickly at this time a Broward County or other Florida petitioner may be able to get financial relief in the form of a reduced alimony payment. Many factors contribute to the timing. However, the matter could potentially be resolved in a timely manner as the local courts are regularly moving proceedings along using remote technology. Because of this, it is worth filing your petition (or responding to such a petition) to modify alimony based on an unintentional income loss as soon as possible.

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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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