The Third District Court of Appeals – the Florida appeals court covering Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, decided a case this year that provides guidance regarding what it means to use the marital standard of living for determining Florida alimony – Quinones v. Quinones, 37 Fla. L. Weekly D 699 (Fla. 3rd DCA, Mar. 21, 2012). The Florida alimony statute, Florida Statutes Section 61.08, lists a number of factors to consider in determining whether to award permanent alimony, or other types of alimony called durational alimony, rehabilitative alimony, and bridge-the-gap alimony. The Quinones case involved an award of permanent alimony, and this post will focus on what it means to use the “marital standard of living” in determining the amount of monthly permanent alimony. “Permanent” alimony continues until one former spouse dies or the payee remarries, and can also be modified if the payee enters into a “supportive relationship” or there is a substantial change in circumstances. Spouses, in their Marital Settlement Agreement, sometimes change the rules that apply to alimony and when it can or can’t be modified.
The two primary factors considered in determining Florida alimony are the receiving spouse’s need and the paying spouse’s ability to pay, and one of the primary factors used in determining need is the marital standard of living. The ruling of the 3rd DCA in the Quinones case was that the marital standard of living is basically what the term says – the standard of living during the marriage, or the amount the couple spent on their various expenses during the marriage – e.g. mortgage, entertainment, grooming, household expenses. So if the couple lived an extravagant life-style during their marriage, and a spouse needs $20,000 to afford the same home, vacations, entertainment, etc. as enjoyed during the marriage, then $20,000 is an appropriate amount to consider as the amount needed.
That is not the end of the analysis, however, and would not necessarily mean that the paying spouse would be ordered to pay alimony of $20,000 per month. The Court would also look at the paying spouse’s ability to pay. Sometimes it is not possible for both spouses to maintain the marital standard of living following a divorce, if the parties’ combined income is not enough to support two households enjoying everything the couple had during the marriage. If paying $20,000 per month alimony plus payment for other existing debts left the paying spouse with no money left over, it would generally be considered an abuse of discretion for the court to award $20,000 per month alimony; or if such an award left the spouse receiving alimony with more money and in a significantly better position that the paying spouse, it’s pretty unlikely a court would award that amount, although there can be circumstances that will lead to a different result.
In the Quinones case, the appellate court concluded that with the Husband earning $58,000 per month net income, he had the ability to pay the $28,000 per month the Wife was requesting. The appellate court remanded the case (sent the case back) to the trial court, basically to come up with an alimony award based on the Wife’s pre-divorce expenses (the trial court in the case had reduced some of the monthly amounts the Wife had requested to an amount below what was spent during the marriage).
One other issue the appellate court dealt with in the case is whether payments the Husband was making to support or help out the parties’ adult child, should be subtracted from his income in calculating what he had available to pay alimony. This issue actually comes up pretty frequently, and the court ruled that unless there is a contractual obligation based on an agreement between the parties to make the payments to the adult child, these types of payments are not deducted from income (court ordered and paid child support is counted as a deduction in calculating net income).