“Current Florida law already provides for the adjustment of alimony under the proper circumstances. The law also insures that spouses who have sacrificed their careers to raise a family, do not suffer financial catastrophe upon divorce, and that the lower earning spouse and stay-at-home parent will not be financially punished.”

                                                      –Governor Rick Scott 2013

Florida Statutes §61.08 provides that the court shall consider all relevant factors, including the standard of living established during the marriage, in determining the type and amount of alimony. It is important to note that the statute itself does not tell the court how to consider the standard of living. Rather, it simply tells the court to consider it. That leaves the court system in the evolution of common law to give the statutory phrase meaning. The case of Juchnowicz v. Juchnowicz, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D422 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2015), is illustrative. This case emanated from our Second District Court of Appeal. In that case, the appellate court reversed the trial court stating “It appears from the record on appeal that the trial court determined the wife’s need based on her post-separation lifestyle rather than the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. This was error.” The court went on to say,

Under the circumstances of this case, we conclude that the alimony award is inadequate and constitutes an abuse of discretion. . . the husband is able to contribute more so that the wife’s standard of living may be more approximate to the marital lifestyle.

The proposed changes to the alimony statute can be seen in House Bill 943 currently under consideration by the Florida Legislature. This bill suggests the following language:

The court should consider the standard of living during the marriage with consideration that there will be two households to maintain after the dissolution of the marriage and that neither party may be able to maintain the same standard of living after the dissolution of the marriage.

The court in Juchnowicz makes an important distinction: the standard of living is a historical fact. It is not necessarily the same as the parties’ current expenses. It is an economic reality that the same income that supported one household upon divorce in an alimony scenario must cover two households. In many cases, it is not possible to maintain the same lifestyle after divorce; however, in certain cases it is. It is my reflection that the proposed language to our alimony statute simply states the obvious and is not a new concept for lawyers or judges.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney