A man whose alimony payment went from being 35 percent of his income to more than 70 percent was given the chance to modify his dissolution order. The Florida Second District Court of Appeal held that the man had adequately proven that changed circumstances warranted the modification of his alimony payments.
To modify an order of dissolution of marriage, the requesting party must allege and prove three elements. First, there must have been a substantial change in circumstances. Second, the change in circumstances must not have been contemplated at the time of the divorce. Finally, the change in circumstances must have been involuntary, sufficient, permanent, and material.
In this case, the petitioning party was bound by an original order of dissolution of marriage entered in 2004 that required an alimony payment of $4,200 per month. At the time, the petitioner made about $150,000 per year, or $12,500 per month. This made his alimony payment, along with life insurance and other de minimis contributions, about 35 percent of his gross monthly income.
In 2011, the petitioner lost his job, and after searching for some time, he found one in Naples, Florida that paid substantially less. In fact, the $4,200 payment represented more than 70 percent of his gross monthly income for about two years. Despite this, the trial court denied the petitioner’s request to modify alimony payments, assessing an arrearage in excess of $70,000 and ordering that 65 percent of his income be withheld to satisfy the debt. The petitioner appealed.
After a lengthy discussion clarifying the standard by which a court of appeal reviews requests to modify alimony payments, the Second District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded to the trial court the question of the amount of alimony appropriate for the petitioner to pay.
The court held that the petitioner had met his burden by proving a substantial change in circumstances, since his income was cut in half. With regard to the other elements, the court addressed the issue of permanence, which was the issue at trial. The court held that the petitioner’s change in circumstances met the permanence requirement, citing precedent that a substantial change that lasted one year without an end in sight qualified as permanent. Given that the petitioner’s income had been substantially reduced for more than two years with no hope of returning to its old level, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court was required as a matter of law to conclude that the petitioner’s change in circumstances was permanent.
Asking a court to modify existing orders of dissolution can be complicated, since Florida law requires proving a specific set of circumstances. The Southwest Florida divorce attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano can help you modify your alimony payments if your circumstances have substantially changed and you meet other legal requirements. To find out whether you qualify to modify your order of dissolution, call (800) 238-7442. We serve clients in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and throughout Southwest Florida.
Florida Court Analyzes Bridge-the-Gap Alimony, November 17, 2014