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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:

  • Whether the obligee and the other person hold themselves out as a married couple, engaging in conduct such as using the same last name and a common mailing address, referring to each other as "my husband" or "my wife," or otherwise conducting themselves in a manner that evidences a permanent supportive relationship;
  • The length of time that the obligee has resided in a permanent place of abode with another person who is not related by blood or affinity;
  • The extent to which the obligee and other person have combined their assets or income or have otherwise demonstrated financial interdependence;
  • The extent to which either the obligee or the other person supports the other, either in whole or in part;
  • The extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other's company or employer;
  • Whether the obligee and other person have worked together to create or enhance anything of value;
  • Whether the obligee and other person have made a joint purchase of real or personal property;
  • Whether there is evidence to show that the obligee and the other person have an express or implied agreement regarding property sharing and support;
  • Whether the obligee and the other person have supported the children of one another, regardless of any legal obligation. Note that this amendment provides that proof of a conjugal relationship is not required. In so doing, the revised statute extends the court's authority to terminate alimony to those situations in which the obligee is in a platonic, live-in relationship with another person, where there is evidence of a supportive relationship between the obligee and the other person, regardless of gender.

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.

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