Alimony may be modified upon a showing of a substantial, involuntary, and permanent change of financial circumstances. Florida Statutes Section 61.14(1) provides that when parties enter into an agreement for payments for alimony, or when support payments are ordered by the court as the result of a dissolution or separate maintenance proceeding, then if the financial ability or the circumstances of either party changes, either party may apply to the appropriate court for an order decreasing or increasing the amount of alimony, and the court has jurisdiction to make whatever orders that equity requires considering the new circumstances and the financial abilities of the parties.
The appropriate venue to bring such modification actions are either the circuit:
- in which either of the parties resided at the date of the execution of the agreement;
- in which either party resided at the date of the application; or
- in which the agreement was executed, or in which the order was rendered.
An alimony award can only be modified upon a clear showing that there has been a substantial change in the financial circumstances of either party occurring after the entry of the order awarding alimony. Note that generally speaking, an increase in the payor’s income alone will not justify modification without a showing of an increase in the payee’s needs.
Effect of Unemployment on Payor
Temporary involuntary unemployment may be the basis for an Order temporarily suspending alimony and child support, especially where the evidence supports a finding that the payor is diligently seeking re-employment so that the unemployment should most likely be temporary.
In these cases, the support arrears should not continue to accrue.
Generally, the Court will grant a temporary suspension of alimony when the payor has suffered a reduction in income without deliberately seeking to avoid paying alimony and is acting in good faith to return the income to its previous level.
Permanent Periodic Alimony
Permanent periodic alimony is always subject to modification, unless the right is specifically waived by the parties. Any modification, however, must be made during the period when payments are required to be made. Modification of permanent alimony depends on proof of a substantial change of circumstances affecting the need of one party and/or the ability to pay of the other party.
The amount of a lump-sum alimony award is not modifiable, unless jurisdiction is expressly retained for such purpose, by agreement of the parties. The manner of the lump-sum alimony payment, however, may be modified.
Rehabilitative alimony is subject to modification or termination, but the request must be made before the rehabilitative period expires. Termination of rehabilitative alimony is proper only when there are findings by the Court that due to a material change in circumstances since the original decree, either the recipient no longer needs the assistance of rehabilitative alimony, or the payor lacks the ability to pay. Note that an award of rehabilitative alimony may be converted to permanent alimony under some circumstances.
The nominal award reserves jurisdiction for the Court to later modify the amount of alimony upon petition of the payee, should the financial conditions of the payor spouse improve. This can be awarded when the payor is under a child support obligation that currently prevents the payor from paying a higher amount, but the court determines that the eventual emancipation of the child or children will permit the payor to pay alimony.
Cohabitation and Modification
Florida Statute Section 61.14 authorizes a court to reduce or terminate an alimony award upon a finding that a “supportive relationship” has existed between the recipient of the alimony and a person with whom he/she resides. The former spouse seeking a reduction or termination of alimony has the burden of proving that a supporting relationship exists by a preponderance of the evidence. In determining whether a “supporting relationship” exists the court shall give consideration, without limitation, to circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:
a. The extent to which the obligee and the other person have held themselves out as a married couple by engaging in conduct such as using the same last name, using a common mailing address, referring to each other in terms such as “my husband” or “my wife,” or otherwise conducting themselves in a manner that evidences a permanent supportive relationship.
b. The period of time that the obligee has resided with the other person in a permanent place of abode.
c. The extent to which the obligee and the other person have pooled their assets or income or otherwise exhibited financial interdependence.
d. The extent to which the obligee or the other person has supported the other, in whole or in part.
e. The extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other.
f. The extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other’s company or employer.
g. Whether the obligee and the other person have worked together to create or enhance anything of value.
h. Whether the obligee and the other person have jointly contributed to the purchase of any real or personal property.
i. Evidence in support of a claim that the obligee and the other person have an express agreement regarding property sharing or support.
j. Evidence in support of a claim that the obligee and the other person have an implied agreement regarding property sharing or support.
k. Whether the obligee and the other person have provided support to the children of one another, regardless of any legal duty to do so.