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Is Permanent Alimony Really Permanent?


As is the case with so many clickable terms, the less you know about permanent alimony, the stronger your feelings about it tend to be.  Permanent alimony is the exception, rather than the rule; in fact, the default option is to settle the couple’s financial entanglements through equitable distribution of marital assets without awarding any alimony.  The court only awards permanent alimony after long marriages, and only if the financially disadvantaged spouse has no other source of financial support.  The stereotype about permanent alimony involves a man living below his means while the lion’s share of his earnings goes to his ex-wife for the rest of their natural lives, but the truth is far less simple.  If your financial circumstances change, you can file a motion to modify the alimony award, even to modify it retroactively, even if the court order is for permanent alimony.  A South Florida alimony lawyer can help you do this.

Why Would the Court Order Someone to Pay One Dollar Per Year in Permanent Alimony?

There is a stereotype that people who love to write and to make literary references, and nowhere is this more obvious than in a Florida appeals court’s 2011 decision about permanent alimony in the case of Lucinda and John, a Miami couple who had divorced decades earlier.  When they met, Lucinda was a widowed mother of five working in a school cafeteria, and John worked for the City of Miami’s sanitation department.  They married in 1973 and had four more children together, making them a family of eleven; Lucinda eventually left the workforce to become a stay-at-home parent.  When they divorced in 1990, Lucinda did not receive alimony (she did receive child support), but the divorce judgment contained a provision that, when John retired, the court would then decide whether alimony was appropriate.

In 2008, then 74 years old and having completed cancer treatment, sought alimony, the court determined that, if Lucinda needed alimony but John had not been able to pay it at the time of the divorce, it should have awarded a nominal amount, such as one dollar per year.  The reasoning was that it is legally possible to increase the amount of a pre-existing alimony order, but not to create an order of alimony ex nihilo more than 20 years after the divorce.  In upholding this opinion, the appeals court quoted extensively from the play A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt, about Sir Thomas More’s moral and legal struggle regarding King Henry VIII’s divorce.  Judge Ramirez wrote a dissenting opinion, which began with a quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  He said that Lucinda obviously needed alimony and the divorce judgment from 1990 had left the door open for it.  He concluded his dissenting opinion by saying that quoting from A Man from All Season’s while denying alimony to a cancer-stricken mother of nine because she had failed to say “the magic words” in her divorce case decades earlier was “the epitome of chutzpah.”

Contact Us Today for Help

A Boca Raton alimony lawyer can help you argue for what is fair in terms of alimony, even as judges do battle with each other, wielding the classics of English literature as weapons.  Contact Schwartz | White for help with your case.



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