CAN FLORIDA COURTS MODIFY ALIMONY BASED ON A SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIP?
Over the past decade of Florida family law, the issue of whether alimony should be modified based on a supportive relationship has been a divisive one for Florida appellate courts.
What is clear, however, is that a Florida court may choose to terminate alimony if the alimony recipient is in a supportive relationship. Before delving further into the legal analysis, it will be helpful to first clarify the definition of a supportive relationship.
WHAT IS A SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIP?
In 2005, the Florida Legislature passed the Supportive Relationship Statute, which allows for alimony to be modified or even terminated based on the existence of a supportive relationship between an alimony recipient and a person with whom the recipient lives.
Notably, the statute does not precisely define “supportive relationship”, instead listing largely economic factors to be used for a proper determination of whether such a relationship exists. The statute says factors like the following must be taken into consideration:
- The period of time the alimony recipient has lived with the person in a permanent place of residence
- The extent to which the parties provide financial support to one another
- The extent to which the parties commingle or share resources
- The extent to which the parties make joint purchases of property
The idea behind a supportive relationship, then, is the Legislature’s concern for spouses cohabitating with a new partner and receiving financial benefits from the new relationship while still receiving alimony. If an ex-spouse moves in with a new significant other (or even a platonic friend) and receives a financial benefit from doing so, a Florida court may decide a supportive relationship exists.
A supportive relationship does not exist, however, if an ex-spouse moves in with a relative such as a parent or sibling, even if their blood relative is providing financial support. Additionally, a supportive relationship does not exist if the ex-spouse moves in with a non-relative, but the two keep their finances distinct and entirely separate from one another.
FLORIDA LAW ON SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIPS AND ALIMONY TERMINATION
As seen in the above analysis, defining whether a supportive relationship exists is a tricky legal ordeal. Florida courts will decide such a relationship exists based on a preponderance of the evidence. In simplest terms, if a party can prove there is a 51% likelihood or greater of a supportive relationship existing, then the court will hold that such a relationship exists.
Once established, the court has the option to either reduce or eliminate alimony. Even here, however, there is no hard standard. One Florida appellate court, for example, held that alimony must be reduced or eliminated once a supportive relationship is established.
Still, most Florida appellate courts have held that establishing a supportive relationship merely shifts the burden of proof back to the alimony recipient, who must then prove a continued need for receiving alimony. In other words, the alimony recipient will not have their alimony amount automatically reduced if a supportive relationship is established.
Until the Florida Supreme Court steps in to issue a definitive ruling on supportive relationships, the way in which the evidence is presented by a Florida family lawyer will be of critical importance.
If you have questions regarding Tampa family law, or are unaware as to the terms and conditions in, talk to, and retain, a family law attorney who can help. Contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org