How To Modify Alimony After A Divorce
One very common issue in divorce cases in Orlando Florida is where one of the parties seeks alimony payments from the other. What most people do not understand is that in most cases alimony is subject to modification down the road after the divorce is finalized. For that reason, it is very important to always speak to your Orlando divorce attorney about your options to modify alimony later before you enter into an agreement.
While not every type of spousal support is able to be changed later, most forms of alimony can be upon showing a substantial change in circumstances. The forms of alimony that can be modified usually include temporary, durational alimony, rehabilitative alimony, and permanent periodic alimony.
There is a substantial misconception regarding what it means to show a substantial change in circumstances which is the requirement in the Florida statute for obtaining a modification of spousal support payments.
Most people will think “hey I’ve got a change in circumstances because it’s been a year, or, because now I’m remarried”. Unfortunately, a substantial change in circumstances is far more complicated and is difficult to prove in many cases.
Based on the definition in the statute, a substantial change must be a substantial, material, and unforeseen change in circumstances. Each of these prongs of the definition is a very important piece of the puzzle and if you are missing even one of them it can end with your case for modification being dismissed, or, being denied at trial.
When we are talking about spousal support payments the substantial change will usually need to impact one of the parties financial circumstances. The most common example of this type of change is where one of the parties has a substantial increase in their incomes, one of the parties has a substantial decrease of their incomes, or the recipient spouse enters into a supportive relationship with someone else which reduces their need to receive the spousal support.
The next prong of the test is that it has to be material. In basic terms, this means that the change must relate to the support being paid in the case and the legal issues associated with the case.
Finally, the last part of the test requires that the change in circumstances be something that was not contemplated at the time of the entry of the original final judgment. There are many complex legal arguments made over this part of the test.
For example, let’s say the husband agreed to pay alimony for 10 years and he had a government contract that paid him $250,000 a year for the next four years. After four years he loses the contract and now earns substantially less. If he attempts to file for a modification of his alimony it is highly likely that the other party will file a motion to dismiss claiming that this was a change that he knew was around the corner when he entered into the agreement. Therefore, the argument would be that this was not an unanticipated change in circumstances and therefore would need to be dismissed for failure to assert a substantial change in circumstances.
This is where these cases can enter dangerous territory because in family law the judges have very wide discretion to make rulings based on their experience and individual interpretation of family law. Two different judges might rule two different ways on this set of facts which is why is very important for your divorce lawyer to do plenty of legal appellate court case law research early on in the case so that it can be adequately explained to the court as to why you qualify for a modification. Your lawyer must also be able to present the legal authority that you are depending on for this position.
Modification of alimony cases have a much lower rate of settlement than initial divorce cases do and your attorney will need to have a game plan in order to provide the other party with maximum incentives to want to settle that case amicably at mediation if at all possible. This is because modification cases can be hotly contested and there is never a guarantee how the judge will rule when it comes time for the judge to make they’re finding that a substantial change in circumstances exists.
Florida just passed a significant change and “reform” to Florida’s alimony laws. This law took affect on July 1, 2023. Orlando personal injury lawyer Erik Abrahamson suggests that any information or advice that you received about alimony prior to the passage of this law should be revisited. This law significantly altered the way courts are required to evaluate alimony.
Sean Smallwood is an Orlando divorce attorney for the law firm Sean Smallwood, Orlando Divorce & Family Law P.A. where he represents clients in all areas of family law and divorce. 100% of the practice is devoted to family law. As an attorney in Orlando, he has helped many families with a wide variety of family law cases including Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, and many other issues.