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Why alimony is a tricky issue in Florida

Of all the issues that arise during a divorce in Florida, alimony can be the most complicated. For one thing, judges do not have clear guidelines to follow. The net effect is that three judges can hear the exact same case and hand down wildly varying results. If you are a woman or man seeking alimony, it can be disheartening to have no idea what result to expect.

Legislation is ongoing

Legislation has been going on for a while that purports to address some of the alimony issues in Florida. Right now, Florida practices permanent alimony, meaning that an ex-spouse could be paying alimony until one of them dies. Not many states do this, and legislators in Florida have tried to reduce the time frame to retirement age, but Gov. Rick Scott has not been on board.

Phrases in many pieces of legislation also trouble many women and men. For instance, it is possible that one day, a person who receives a 10 percent increase in job pay could be taken to court for an alimony modification. Depending on the piece of legislation, some changes could be retroactive.

Much is at judges' discretion

One reason Gov. Scott has vetoed bills that end permanent alimony is because of the belief that judges need to carefully weigh the factors in each individual case. This may sound good in theory, but it does lead to many unpredictable and unfair results. Take the case of an ex-couple in which both partners have bachelor's degrees. The wife followed her husband around the country as he pursued jobs, putting her own career on the back burner. She also left the work force for a few years to care for their children, which was the husband's idea.

One judge could decide that the ex-wife is entitled to, say, $10,000 a year. Another judge could increase that amount to $20,000 or even more. It all varies depending on what the judge thinks. Some judges may also give no weight to the length of a marriage, so two men married 10 years and 30 years might get the exact same amounts of alimony. Alimony can even continue after child support has ended. Part of what some ongoing legislation aims to do is to give judges guidelines related to length of marriage; for example, no alimony if a couple has been married less than two years.

With all of the complicated issues that come with alimony, it is often in your best interests to contact a lawyer. This applies whether you are a man or a woman seeking alimony or wanting to modify alimony payments.

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