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Florida Law Update - Alimony and Cohabitation
Can Alimony Be Terminated Upon Cohabitation?
In 2005, the Florida Legislature enacted certain revisions to Florida Statute Section 61.14, which governs modifications of support awards in divorce proceedings. The amendment substantially changes the law pertaining to termination or modification of alimony based on the alleged existence of a "supportive relationship" wherein the alimony recipient is cohabitating with another person to whom he or she is not related and with whom he or she is financially interdependent.
Awards of Alimony
In divorce cases where alimony is considered, the amount is generally assessed by balancing the dependent spouse's needs with the supporting spouse's ability to pay, in light of the standard of living enjoyed during the most recent years of the marriage. The court may order alimony as a lump sum, or through periodic payments, although many courts now favor "rehabilitative" or "bridge-the-gap" alimony, both of which encourage eventual self-sufficiency, over permanent, periodic alimony.
Modification/Termination of Alimony
Until now, the law provided that awards of alimony should terminate when either party dies or when the recipient remarries. The issue of alimony could be revisited only when the need or ability to pay changed substantially. This claim of a "substantial change in circumstances" is typically based on the incomes and financial circumstances of the parties and/or any alternate sources of support to the recipient. Only upon a substantial change in the need of the recipient or the ability to pay of the payor was a modification or termination granted. Alimony obligors could previously commence an action requesting a modification or termination of alimony based on the obligee's cohabitation with another party, but the courts had no guidelines by which to assess the nature of the obligee's relationship with his or her coinhabitant or any statutory factors to consider in making such a determination.
Senate Bill 152
Senate Bill 152 (House Bill 1181) was introduced in early 2005, and sponsored in the Florida Senate by Gary Siplin, an Orlando Democrat. Its proposal stemmed from a Florida case in which an alimony recipient/ former wife and her live-in boyfriend invited 50 friends and relatives to Las Vegas. Programs and t-shirts from the event read "Las Vegas Wedding Weekend," and a video of the event showed the couple standing beneath a chuppah, a canopy traditionally used in Jewish weddings. They exchanged vows and rings, and essentially staged an unofficial wedding, complete with ceremony, reception, friends, family, champagne toasts, cake, etc. Upon the ex-husband's petition for termination of alimony, Judge Robert Foster ruled that it was not a legal marriage because there was no marriage license, and that the alimony obligation therefore stood. Needless to say, the payor/ex-husband, obligated to pay $5,000 per month, was outraged that the law did not provide him recourse to terminate his alimony obligation under these obvious circumstances.
Effect of Changes to 61.14
The amended Fla. Stat. s. 61.14 authorizes the court to terminate an award of alimony where the court has made specific written findings, as proven by the payor through a preponderance of the evidence, that a "supportive relationship" exists between the recipient and a person with whom the recipient resides who is not related by consanguinity or affinity. Provisions of the amendment identify a variety of criteria to be used in determining whether a supportive relationship exists. These provisions provide an alternate method to a court to terminate alimony, without requiring the court to make a threshold determination of a change in financial circumstances, as was previously required.
In determining whether a supportive relationship exists, the court shall give consideration to the following factors:
How Will This Amendment Affect You?
Alimony Obligors: If your ex-spouse is cohabitating with and in a supportive relationship with a person to whom he/she is not married, you may be able to terminate your alimony obligation.
Alimony Recipients: If you are cohabitating with another with whom you have a financially supportive relationship and/or are financially interdependent, you may be at risk under this statute unless you take certain steps.
When the Florida court decides on the issue of child custody and visitation, the gender of the parents is not considered. For example, a mother will not automatically receive custody of the children just because she is the mother. The judge must only consider what is in the best interests of the child. Florida divorce law requires Shared Parental Responsibility. This means that even though the child may live with one parent, the other parent has equal say in raising the child. Each party must be consulted on the education, health, religion, and discipline of the child. And, if the parties cannot agree on these important issues, the judge will make the decisions.
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