Ex-husband could have paid alimony for a few months after losing his job
In a divorce proceeding, one spouse may be ordered to pay the other alimony, also known as spousal support. If circumstances change substantially after the divorce, the supporting spouse may petition the court for a modification.
However, a supporting spouse seeking a modification should tread cautiously if they intend to immediately stop making alimony payments while their case is pending, as the Florida District Court of Appeal case of Acosta v. Renta demonstrates.
A former husband loses his job
The former husband filed a petition seeking a reduction in the amount of his permanent monthly alimony obligation. At the time of his divorce, he had been earning over $100,000 per year and was ordered to pay $2,800 per month in alimony. However, since that time, he was laid off and was financially incapable of paying any alimony to his former wife. The husband asked that this change be made retroactive to the time he filed the request for modification.
During the time the husband’s petition was pending, he did not make any alimony payments to his wife. About four months later, the wife filed a motion against the husband because he had stopped paying alimony while the case was pending. She asserted he still had the ability to make payments during those months, since he had received a separation bonus and other earnings, in addition to earning approximately $30,000 doing odd jobs.
A year later, when the hearing was held, the trial court granted the alimony modification to the husband, holding that he had proven he had a substantial change in circumstances that was material, permanent and involuntary. The husband’s alimony payment was reduced to $1 per month, to be adjusted when he found employment.
However, the court also determined that the husband had willfully violated the earlier divorce degree by failing to pay his alimony for the first four months after he filed his petition, since he could have paid out of his bonus and other earnings. The trial court ordered the husband to transfer funds from his IRA to pay his wife this alimony arrearage. The husband appealed.
Did the husband owe alimony for the earlier months?
The Florida District Court of Appeal found that the husband’s financial situation had continued to deteriorate during the period of more than a year before the court’s hearing was held, even after moving into his parent’s home to reduce his living expenses.
While the appeals court agreed that the husband had the ability to contribute some degree of support to his former wife at the time his modification petition was filed, he did not have the ability to pay the full $2,800 per month during those months.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the trial court in the alimony modification proceedings and remanded the case back to the trial court to determine the reduced amount the former husband could have paid during that time period.
Seek an attorney’s assistance
If you or your former spouse face changed financial circumstances and you are seeking a modification-whether as the spouse paying or receiving alimony-you should consult with an experienced family law attorney before taking any action. Because alimony is determined on a case-by-case basis, it is important that you have an attorney representing your interests.