Going through a divorce is generally a stressful process even if both parties agree to a mutual end of the marriage. The legal considerations of a divorce do not end as soon as the court makes a final judgment. Awards of support, among other things, may bring legal effects that impact the parties long after the divorce is granted. Alimony, or spousal support, is one such instance.
While the general purpose of alimony is to assist a party in need of support, there are times when the supporting party might be unable to continue making payments. In such cases, the supporting party would seek to obtain an order from the court, decreasing the amount of support. As with most other aspects of the law, the outcome of the case depends on the facts.
Florida Law on modifying Alimony
Under Florida statute 61.14, a party may obtain modification of a support order if there has been a material change in circumstances. This change must not only be permanent but must be a major change that was unexpected. An example of such a change would be a major loss in income and earning capacity due to serious illness.
If the court finds that the supporting party intentionally reduced his income, the court will not agree to changing the support payments. Naturally, this is to prevent unhappy parties from interfering with the alimony judgment.
Other grounds for Modifying Alimony
Another ground for modifying alimony is when the supported spouse lives with, and is in a supportive relationship with a third party. This third party cannot be related to the supported spouse by blood or affinity. Furthermore the nature and the extent of the relationship with the third party is important. The court will consider economic support, pooling of assets and sharing of property among other factors.
Parties may waive statutory right to seek modification of alimony. If the waiver is clear and unambiguous, it will be upheld.
The Elbaum Case
In Elbaum v. Elbaum, a couple who had filed for divorce, made a provision regarding support in their settlement agreement. In the agreement, they stated that alimony could not be modified absent an unexpected circumstance affecting Mr. Elbaum’s employment or health. Mr. Elbaum attempted to argue that his alimony obligations expired because his wife had been cohabiting with another man, but the court found otherwise.
The court found that a Marital Settlement Agreement is a contract subject to interpretation like any other contract. Unless ambiguous, this contract should be interpreted according to its plain meaning. The provisions in the Elbaum’s support agreement restricted modification. Both Mr. and Mrs. Elbaum clearly waived their statutory rights to seek modification unless the grounds were for unforeseen circumstances relating to the former husband’s health or business. Mr. Elbaum therefore could not proceed on statutory grounds for modification.
One might wonder why anyone would restrict their ability to modify an award of alimony. Keep in mind that a supported party would also be prevented from modifying the award in such a scenario. Absent a provision restricting modification, a supported party may seek modification of alimony payments. The supported party would need to show that his/her needs have increased and that his/her former spouse has the ability to meet the increased needs.
It should however be noted that “bridge the gap” alimony which is awarded to meet short term needs as a result of transitioning to being single, may not be modified.
Contact a Family Law Attorney
While navigating the ins and outs of divorce can be complicated and stressful, you do not have to do it alone. If you are considering divorce, or your spouse has already filed for divorce, then contact a dedicated, experienced attorney at The Law Office of Natalie D. Hall, PA for a case evaluation.