Important Florida Family Law Case on Modifying Alimony Duration
Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals recently heard the case of Ispass v. Ispass, where the case centered on a wife’s appeal of a trial court order. The trial court had dismissed a supplemental petition the wife made in an attempt to modify both the amount and duration of alimony paid by the former husband.
The trial court’s dismissal was based upon the legal reasoning that the trial court itself lacked jurisdiction to modify the former couple’s alimony duration, but on appeal, the 5th District disagreed with the trial court’s reasoning. What follows are the basic facts and legal reasoning used by the 5th District that shows why the appellate court agreed with the wife’s legal argument, not the trial court’s.
Facts of Ispass v. Ispass
The couple in the case reached a marital settlement agreement that required the former husband to pay alimony under certain requirements. For example, the husband would be required to pay alimony unless he became permanently disabled or retired before 62 years of age. Similarly, alimony payments could end if the wife died, remarried or cohabitated with another individual.
The original settlement agreement was ultimately modified three years later, however, when the wife petitioned for a child support increase and the former husband sought to end alimony payment because of the wife’s alleged cohabitation (per the terms of the settlement agreement). This disagreement ultimately resolved by the couple reaching a mediation agreement, whereby the alimony payments were modified.
The newfound agreement would reduce the wife’s alimony payments starting in 2006, and the payments would end entirely once the former wife reached 62 years of age herself. However, the husband also agreed to waive his right to reduce or end alimony based on the wife’s cohabitation, which served to amend the original settlement agreement.
Two months before the wife reached a 62nd birthday, which would have ended her alimony, the spouse sought to modify the alimony by extending the duration past her birthday. She also sought to have her monthly alimony increased. The former wife’s paramour had passed away and she had recently been diagnosed with cancer that left her unable to work.
Based on these changes, the wife then petitioned the trial court two months before her 62nd birthday, asking the court to recalculate alimony based on the parties’ current respective situations. The wife then amended that petition a few months after she reached 62 years of age, demanding payment for attorney’s fees.
The trial court dismissed the petition, arguing that Section 61.14 of the Florida Statutes does not allow courts to change the duration of alimony. The trial court also noted that entering into the mediation agreement meant that the wife waived the right to extend alimony beyond her 62nd birthday.
The 5th District Disagreed With the Trial Court’s Reasoning
The appellate court noted that Section 61.14 does not explicitly give trial courts the authority to extend alimony duration. However, the court also noted that there is legal precedent for Florida courts doing so. The appellate court then cited previous cases where the duration of alimony was modified, particularly when there is a showing of changed and exceptional circumstances that justify an extension of the alimony duration, according to Section 61.08(7) of the Florida Statutes).
Further, even the fact that the former wife amended her petition after her 62nd birthday did not mean the trial court lacked jurisdiction. Previous Florida case law reveals that courts in Florida have jurisdiction to enforce alimony or modify it at any time during a period of alimony support. Although the wife filed shortly before alimony payments ended, the fact remains she still filed her petition during an alimony payment period. As such, the petition was timely, and the trial court did indeed have jurisdiction to rule on the wife’s petition.
Important Takeaway From Ispass v. Ispass
The mere fact that a trial court rules against you or even the fact that the court claimed to lack jurisdiction does not end your case. Moreover, you may still be able to have your alimony modified or other rights protected if the trial court made a mistake in legal reasoning.
If you have questions for a Tampa divorce lawyer, or are unaware of the terms and conditions of a Tampa divorce, 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