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Is the fight over alimony always worth it?

Whichever legal term you want to use - spousal support or spousal maintenance - alimony is likely to be one of the most hotly-contested issues in any divorce in South Florida.

Florida is a "no fault" divorce state, which means that either party may file for divorce without giving grounds. When one party files because of the behavior of the other spouse, however, suing for some form of spousal support is often used as a form of revenge for ruining the marriage. Under section 61.08(1) of the State Civil Statutes, in fact, "The court may consider the adultery of either spouse and the circumstances thereof in determining the amount of alimony."

But while it may feel good to punish your spouse for bad behavior, the courts in South Florida apply a very strict standard for terms and conditions for awarding alimony. The cost of putting up a fight to prove a point isn't always worth it. For ease of reading, we will refer to spousal maintenance as alimony throughout the remainder of this blog post.

Criteria for awarding alimony

Under Section 61.08 of the Florida Statutes, courts may award alimony to either spouse in a divorce. Types of alimony include:

  • Bridge-the-gap: Financial support to help the spouse cover certain expenses which are over and above the ability to pay
  • Rehabilitative: Temporary support to cover living expenses while the spouse completes school or job training and finds a job
  • Durational: Financial support awarded for a specified amount of time, giving the payee an opportunity to find a new residence, meet short-term financial needs, etc.
  • Permanent: Usually only awarded in cases of long-term marriage of more than 17 years, in which one spouse did not work outside of the home and has a disability or no marketable job skills needed for future employment.
  •  Any combination: Judges may piece together components of the above types of alimony

The court's first business is to make a factual assessment of whether there is a financial need on the part of the party seeking alimony, as well as the payor's ability to pay. There are no moral victories awarded if one party has no ability to pay.

Besides the duration of the marriage, a partial list of the criteria the court will consider includes:

  • The lifestyle the parties became accustomed to during the marriage
  • The physical and mental condition of both parties
  • The financial resources available following the equitable distribution of marital property
  • The education, job training, work experience the parties have for earning an income
  • Responsibilities and custody arrangement for children
  • Tax considerations

Cost of litigation

Many divorcing spouses initially sit down with their respective attorneys, strongly convinced that they deserve alimony. Meanwhile, at a law office across town, the spouse is equally convinced that there will be no alimony award. Florida family law judges expect lawyers for both parties to work with their clients to reach a resolution outside of court, if at all possible. After reviewing the circumstances, the lawyers have an obligation to advise their clients if the judge isn't likely to see things their way.

Even when the criteria for awarding alimony may be met, it is important to take one important additional factor into account: legal costs.

Prior to filing for alimony, your attorney will review all the financial and personal circumstances in order to build a case for the award. That means gathering and reviewing records and taking depositions, evaluating personal assets and income sources and possibly working with outside experts to determine prospects for employability and earning potential. If you are seeking temporary (durational or rehabilitative) alimony, you must ask yourself whether the final amount of the award will exceed the attorneys' fees and other legal costs you will accumulate over several months of litigation.

If you are fighting against paying alimony, your lawyer will have to go through many of the same process steps to build a case on your behalf. Ultimately, it may be the less expensive outcome to accept the fact that you will have to pay, but focus your resources and energy on fighting for a reduced amount.

     

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