Alimony in Florida Family Law Cases
Florida Governor Rick Scott has vetoed the last two alimony bills that have come across his desk. Much has been written about the reasons each of these bills (one in 2013, and the most recent in 2016) were vetoed. However, this article focuses on the pragmatic reason alimony reform is still needed in Florida.
To understand the problem, one must look at the source of the problem. That starts with a look at Florida Statute 61.08, the current Florida law regarding alimony. The Court first determines whether there is a “need” for alimony by one of the parties, and an “ability to pay” alimony by the other party. This first hurdle or prong of the test is relatively straight forward. However, the second hurdle or prong (to determine the amount of alimony) is significantly pricklier and leads to a nebulous part of the law incapable of providing any semblance of uniformity in alimony awards throughout Florida.
A thorough and complete review of Florida Statute 61.08 immediately leads the (lawyer and non-lawyer alike) reader to question how on earth anybody can determine what the best case and the worst case scenario is for the obligor (the person ordered to pay alimony) and/or for the obligee (the person receiving alimony). This is so, because there are no actual tables, formulas, or equations to help the reader estimate the presumptive alimony amount. The statute merely recites 10 “relevant factors” the court “shall consider”, none of which provide the practitioner with any practical way to calculate his or her client’s potential obligation or award. The type of alimony and duration of the alimony award a Court may award is also problematic, but not nearly as problematic as attempting to discern the amount of an alimony award that may be ordered by the Court.
Interestingly enough, Florida Statute 61.30, which governs the calculation of child support has been around for decades. It actually provides a table (and a corresponding formula) to assist the practitioners, the parties, and the Court, in calculating the obligor’s presumptive child support amount. Although some flavor of this table and these formulas have been around for decades for the purposes of calculating child support, a similar guideline has never been provided for alimony.
Regardless of whether an individual is “pro” or “anti” alimony reform, all should agree that Florida Statute 61.08, as it stands today, is in desperate need of change. Certainly a table and/or formulas will assist the family law practitioners, and the parties, in framing the best-case and worst-case scenarios in each matter. Reform must provide much needed clarity to the current nebulous ten “relevant factors” test, which does little to help the family law practitioner arrive at a dollar amount for alimony.