When does alimony terminate?
If alimony is ordered by the Court as part of a final judgment, it will terminate upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. Additionally, an alimony award may be modified or terminated in accordance with section 61.14, Florida Statutes, which provides that alimony may be reduced or terminated if the person receiving alimony is in a supportive relationship with the person he or she resides. Further, alimony may be modified if (1) there is a substantial change in circumstances; (2) the change was not contemplated at the time of final judgment of dissolution; and (3) the change was be sufficient, material, involuntary, and permanent in nature.
If a party is paying alimony pursuant to a Marital Settlement Agreement, the terms of the agreement prevail as to when alimony may be modified or terminated as a marital settlement agreement is a contract subject to interpretation like any other contract. Accordingly, terms contained in such agreements should be given their plain meaning and not be disturbed unless found to be ambiguous or in need of clarification, modification, or interpretation. However, a Martial Settlement Agreement may limit the ability to modify alimony. For example, the Marital Settlement Agreement may provide that the alimony obligation is non-modifiable or may only allow the alimony to be modified for a specific purpose. Alternatively, the parties’ agreement may state that alimony is modifiable only upon remarriage or death and exclude the supportive relationship language.
In Herbst v. Herbst, 153 So. 3d 290, 290 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014), the Court found that the terms of the alimony provision in the parties’ marital settlement agreement unambiguously obligated the former husband to pay the former wife nonmodifiable alimony until she died, that provision required payment beyond the former wife’s remarriage. While the Florida statute terminates alimony upon remarriage, in this case the agreement of the parties superseded the statute and required that alimony continue, even though the former spouse had remarried. This is another example of why it is imperative to have an experienced family law attorney review any Marital Settlement Agreement as the devil is often in the details of the language.
In another unusual case, the court found that the Former Wife’s cohabitation with her prison cell mate terminated the Former Husband’s alimony obligation because of how cohabitation was defined in the parties’ Marital Settlement Agreement. In Craissati v. Craissati, 997 So. 2d 458 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008), the terms of the Marital Settlement Agreement provided that alimony shall terminate upon cohabitation with another person other than the parties’ child. “Cohabitation” was defined as the Wife living with another person (not including the parties’ child) for a period of 3 (three) consecutive months or more. Subsequent to the Final Judgment, the Wife was sentenced to nine years in prison in connection with criminal convictions for driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, and causing serious bodily injury. The Husband then moved to terminate his alimony obligation arguing that the incarcerated Wife was cohabitating with her cell mate. While the trial court initially found that the Husband’s interpretation would lead to an absurd result, which is unthinkably bizarre and at odds with any reasonable interpretation intended by the drafters of the agreement. The appellate court disagreed and found that the Wife cohabitating with her cell mate met the definition of cohabitation as defined by the Marital Settlement Agreement and terminated the Husband’s alimony obligation.
Alimony may also terminate or be modified upon retirement; however, the retirement must be reasonable given the circumstances. When determining if retirement is reasonable the court must consider the payor’s age, health, and motivation for retirement, as well as the type of work the payor performs and the age at which others engaged in that line of work normally retire. Pimm v. Pimm, 601 So. 2d 534, 537 (Fla. 1992). The age of sixty-five years has become the traditional and presumptive age of retirement for American workers; however, this will vary depending on the type of employment. For example, a professional athlete, military, or law enforcement may not have a normal retirement age of sixty-five due to the physical demands of the job.
Finally, alimony may terminate or be modified if there is a substantial change in financial circumstances. Typically, this means if the spouse paying alimony becomes unemployed or if his or her income substantially decreases due to no fault of their own. It is important that the party who is seeking to modify or terminate alimony file a Petition for Modification as soon as the decrease in income occurs as the court only has jurisdiction to retroactively terminate or reduce alimony back to the date of filing.