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How does a change in income affect my alimony payments?

A common question is whether a change in income will affect alimony payments. The short answer is maybe. Section 61.14(1), Florida Statutes, authorizes the recipient of an alimony award to apply for an increase whenever there is a change in the financial ability of either party, however, the court is not required to grant such a motion. The same holds true for a paying spouse. The paying spouse may apply for a decrease, but the court is not required to grant such a request.

Section 61.14(1), Florida Statutes, provides that when there has been an order to pay alimony in connection with a dissolution of marriage “and the circumstances or the financial ability of either party has changed” since “the rendition of the order, either party may apply to the circuit court . . . for a judgment decreasing or increasing the amount of . . . alimony, and the court has jurisdiction to make orders as equity requires, with due regard to the changed circumstances or the financial ability of the parties . . . decreasing, increasing, or confirming the amount of . . . alimony provided for in the . . . order.”

To warrant a modification, the party seeking the change must prove 1) a substantial change in circumstances; 2) that was not contemplated at the time of the final judgment of dissolution; and 3) is sufficient, material, involuntary, and permanent in nature.’” Koski v. Koski, 98 So. 3d 93, 95 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) (quoting Damiano v. Damiano, 855 So. 2d 708, 710 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003)). There are two avenues to pursue when proving the substantial change in circumstances prong of the alimony modification test: (1) a substantial change in one spouse’s needs, or (2) a substantial increase in the paying spouse’s ability to pay. See Eisemann v. Eisemann, 5 So. 3d 760, 763 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009).

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It is important to note that the recipient’s need is controlling and that to hold otherwise would grant the recipient a continuing interest in the former spouse’s good fortune. In other words, a spouse who does not have a legitimate need cannot receive an increase in alimony just because the paying spouse’s income has substantially increased. Need for alimony purposes is based on the standard of living established during the marriage. The trial court will try to “ensure that each party’s standard of living comes as close as possible to the prior lifestyle, given the available financial resources.” Griffin v. Griffin, 906 So.2d 386, 389 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005); see also Laz v. Laz, 727 So.2d 966, 967 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998). “However, a trial judge must ensure that neither spouse passes automatically from misfortune to prosperity or from prosperity to misfortune, nor, in viewing the totality of the circumstances; one spouse should not be shortchanged.” Canakaris v. Canakaris, 382 so. 2d 1197, 1204 (Fla. 1980).

There are many factors for a court to consider when determining whether to modify an alimony award. A trial court is not required to modify alimony simply upon proof of a substantial increase or decrease in the financial ability of the paying spouse if equity does not dictate that such a change should be ordered. Bedell v. Bedell, 583 So. 2d 1005, (Fla. 1991).

Further Reading:
When does cohabitation terminate alimony?
Divorce and the Dissipation of Assets