Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threw out permanent alimony, so to speak, when he signed a momentous spousal support bill that took effect on July 1, 2023. The new law leaves other alimony types in place but provides new rules and standards for courts to apply.
What was permanent alimony?
Permanent spousal support occurred when a court ordered a divorcing party (the obligor) to make ongoing alimony payments to the other spouse (the obligee) with no end date. Permanent alimony only stopped if either party died, or the obligee entered a new marriage or a supportive relationship.
Permanent alimony was traditional in a traditional marriage, where one spouse stayed home to care for children and manage the household, while the other earned money to support the family while advancing their education and career. That it took a decade of political conflict for the bill to pass and governor to sign it into law is probably not surprising if you think about how many older couples move here after having lived years of traditional marital arrangements.
What will fill the void?
The bill amends current state statutes, rather than creating completely new laws. The new standards are based partly on marriage length, defined as:
- Short-term marriage: Less than 10 years
- Moderate-term marriage: Between 10 and 20 years
- Long-term marriage: At least 20 years
The marriage ends on the date one of the parties filed for divorce. The durational definitions are rebuttable presumptions, meaning a party could present evidence to show that the court should consider the marriage to be in a different category despite its actual duration.
The court must initially find that one party will need support and the other can pay. Left in place after the amendment removing permanent alimony are these types of spousal support, which the court may order alone or in combination:
- Temporary: A limited award to support a spouse only when the divorce action is pending
- Bridge-the-gap: Capped at two years and not modifiable, meant to help an ex-spouse transition to being single; requires “legitimate identifiable short-term needs”; ends with the death of either party or the obligee’s remarriage
- Rehabilitative: Capped at five years, rehabilitative support assists the obligee while they complete a specific plan to become self-supporting; this could redevelop prior “skills or credentials” or involve a program of education, training or work to develop new skills or credentials; the duration may be modified or terminated if there is a substantial change in circumstances or if the obligee does not adhere to the plan or finishes it early
- Durational: An alimony award for a specific time, only for marriages lasting at least three years; attributes include:
- Terminates with death of either party or obligee’s remarriage
- Amount should either meet the obligee’s “reasonable need” or be an amount not greater than 35% of the difference between the parties’ net income, whichever is less
- Court may modify the size of the award or terminate it if it finds a substantial change in circumstances
- Length limited to 50% of a short-term marriage, 60% of a moderate-term marriage or 75% of a long-term marriage
- Length is not subject to modification, or the preset lengths exceeded, except under “exceptional circumstances”
We will continue to bring clarity to major provisions of the new alimony bill in this space.