When a judge orders a spouse to pay permanent periodic alimony, he or she may feel resigned to a lifetime of indebtedness to the one person he or she is trying to forget about. It’s that word, “permanent," that seems so…well…permanent. But, believe it or not, Florida law has contemplated that there are times when permanent alimony may no longer be appropriate (or when the amount of alimony may be reduced).
Section 61.08(8), Florida Statutes, states that permanent alimony may be modified or terminated when there has been a substantial change in circumstances that affects the receiving spouse’s need for alimony or the paying spouse’s ability to pay. Case law tells us that a “substantial change in circumstances" means a change that was unanticipated at the time the alimony was ordered by the Court, and a change that is permanent, involuntary, and material. Examples of substantial changes in circumstance include deterioration of the paying spouse’s health, a long-term and substantial decline in the paying spouse’s income, or unexpected inheritance recently gifted to the receiving spouse.
Even if a change in circumstances is voluntary, it may still warrant a modification or reduction of permanent alimony if the change is prudent, or a smart and well thought out decision. For example, let’s say a person was a real estate agent at the time he was ordered to pay permanent alimony, but, because of changes in the economy, he has chosen to switch careers and take a position with an oil company. Though this position pays much less than the person received at the height of the real estate boom, it is now much more stable with the possibility of long-term advancement. If the person can show that this voluntary reduction in income was prudent, he may still be able to get his alimony obligation reduced or terminated.
Section 61.08(8), Florida States, provides that permanent periodic alimony also terminates upon (i) the death of either party or (ii) the remarriage of the receiving spouse. However, if your former spouse remarries, don’t simply stop making payments. You will have to file a supplemental petition with the Court, request the termination of the alimony, and wait for the Court to enter an order terminating the obligation.
Additionally, a judge may reduce or terminate an award of permanent alimony upon finding that the receiving spouse is now in a supportive relationship. Section 61.14(1)(b)(2), Florida Statutes, provides guidelines to determine whether such a relationship exists.
Even if you are late on payments, you may request a reduction or termination of alimony. Keep in mind, however, that you will still be responsible for alimony payments that accrued prior to you filing a supplemental petition requesting a modification of the alimony order.
One last point: A judge will only reduce or terminate permanent alimony if you properly ask for the modification. If you simply stop paying alimony without filing a supplemental petition, you may face sanctions, such as paying your former spouse’s attorney’s fees, having your driver’s license suspended, or possibly even spending some time in jail. Consult with a Florida family law attorney to see what you can do to take the “permanent" out of your alimony obligation.
If you are seeking to modify your alimony obligation (http://familydiplomacy.com/modification-of-final-judgment), and you wish to schedule a consultation with a Florida alimony attorney (http://familydiplomacy.com/), contact Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm by calling us at (813) 443-0615 or filling out our contact form (http://familydiplomacy.com/schedule-a-consultation/).
Adam B. Cordover is a family law attorney and managing shareholder of Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm. His office is located at 412 East Madison Street, Suite 824, Tampa, Florida 33602.