Alimony is not meant to punish or impoverish a spouse. To the contrary, the legal objective of alimony is to ensure both spouses have adequate financial resources to meet their living expenses following a divorce. Florida law requires a judge to consider a number of different statutory factors when determining the appropriate type and amount of alimony in a given divorce case. But one point the law is quite clear about: Any award cannot leave the spouse required to pay alimony with “significantly less net income” than the spouse who is receiving alimony–unless there are “exceptional circumstances” explained in writing by a judge.
Court Deems Alimony Award Excessive Due to Lack of “Exceptional Circumstances”
To illustrate how the law applies in practice, consider this recent decision from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, Rabadan v. Rabadan. In Rabadan, the wife sought alimony from the husband. Each side presented competing evidence regarding the husband’s ability to pay. An accounting expert retained by the wife testified that the wife needed $9,523 per month in alimony and that the husband earned $15,260 in monthly net income. In contrast, the husband’s accounting expert testified that the husband had a negative net income–a net loss of $2,331 each month–and the wife’s financial needs only justified an alimony award of $7,877 per month.
After considering all of the evidence, the trial judge largely accepted the figures presented by the wife’s accountant and ordered the husband to pay $8,000 in alimony per month. The husband appealed, arguing that even taking the wife’s figures at face value, the award violated Florida law, because it required him to pay more than half of his net income in alimony.
The Fourth District agreed with the husband and reversed and remanded the alimony award to the trial court with instructions to support its decision with “written findings of exceptional circumstances.” As noted above, Florida law forbids an alimony award that leaves the paying spouse with less monthly net income than the receiving spouse unless there are written findings of exceptional circumstances. Here, the Fourth District noted that the trial judge not only ordered the husband to pay more than half of his net income in alimony; the court further directed the husband to pay the wife’s health and dental insurance expenses, as well as obtain a separate life insurance policy to guarantee his alimony obligations. After these additional items were added to the underlying alimony award, husband was clearly left with “significantly less net income” than the wife. The appellate court was troubled with this result because the trial court failed to explain what, if any, “exceptional circumstances” justified such an exorbitant award. Indeed, the only rationale offered by the trial judge was that the wife needed a residence large enough to accommodate her and her adult son, which was also problematic because a parent is under no legal obligation to provide financial support to an adult child. Based on these lack of findings, the trial court’s initial alimony determination could not stand.
Speak with a Tampa, Florida, Divorce Attorney Today
As demonstrated by the factual and legal arguments raised in the Rabadan case, alimony is often a contentious and complicated issue, in which the parties may take wildly divergent views regarding one spouse’s ability to pay–or the other’s need for financial alimony. Accordingly, if you are involved in a divorce and need legal advice from a qualified Tampa alimony lawyer, contact Older Lundy Koch & Martino today to schedule a consultation.