How Do Courts Make Decisions About Spousal Support?


Among the many difficult feelings surrounding a divorce, uncertainty is one of the worst. There are so many fears about the future and worries about what happens next. Often, these concerns involve money and property. How much can you keep? What will you lose? These thoughts can keep you up at night.

Specifically, you might be worried about spousal support. Perhaps you believe will be asked to pay, and you’re scared of how much it will be. Maybe you’re the spouse needs support after divorce, and you’re worried it won’t be enough.

Spousal support, sometimes called “alimony,” is often misunderstood. In this article, we will cover some broad criteria courtrooms use to make support decisions. Armed with this knowledge, you work closely with your lawyer, asking pointed questions and making informed decisions.

Florida does not use a direct formula to calculate spousal support. Instead, considers several factors and makes decisions from there.

Need vs. Ability

At its most simple, spousal support is about protecting someone after divorce. Imagine a couple where one is a successful businessperson, and the other is a stay-at-home parent. If they were to completely separate without any financial exchange, the unemployed spouse would be left destitute, while the other lived comfortably.

Spousal support is designed to curtail such financial disparities. Family law recognized that these spouses were family members once, and those familial obligations do not suddenly disappear once the marriage ends.

The court attempts to answer two questions:

  1. How much does the supported partner need to survive?
  2. How capable is the supporting partner in meeting that need?

Using these two questions as the foundation, the court must create a fair level of support. Ostensibly, it should not be too much of a burden on the payer, and it should still meet the needs of the receiver. This should provide you some comfort, whichever side of support you’re on. Each lawyer will argue for a fair price, and if all goes well, the court will make a reasonable decision.

Standard of Living

Courts do not want either spouse experiencing a sudden drop in lifestyle. If you, for example, enjoy an upper middle-class life, divorce should not leave you barely making ends meet.

Keeping a standard of living does not mean that the supported partner lives lavishly off their former spouse. Courts are on the lookout for people taking advantage of the system. No one should be expected to pay for an unemployed person’s jewelry and sports cars. If your spouse is attempting to game the system this way, seek the services of a good lawyer who can keep support negotiations reasonable.

The Age, Health, and Skills of the Supported Spouse

At its best, spousal support is a means of getting the receiving spouse back on their feet. Ultimately, everyone should get to a point where they are independent. This goal, however, may be unachievable.

Depending on the spouse’s age, mental and physical health, and job skills, they might not have bright career prospects. In such a case, they will need long-term support, and they could even require permanent alimony.

The Potential of Either Spouse to Earn More Money

Related to job skills, there is the matter of future earnings. Imagine the supported spouse just earned a degree or is on track for a big promotion. Remember, courts generally want the receiving spouse to become self-sufficient. If they are on an advancing career path, support can be adjusted accordingly.

This situation applies to both spouses. If the paying spouse appears to have a high earning potential, they may be asked to contribute more support.

The Resources of Each Spouse After Property Division

Property division and spousal support are separate processes. One deals with assets that already exist, and the other is concerned about continued, future support.

Florida uses an equitable property division model when dividing assets. Essentially, anything each spouse purchased while married is considered a marital asset. It belongs to them both. When courts divide property, they grant assets to the most deserving of the two. After dividing property, the court looks at what each spouse has leftover. Using that as a basis, it decides how much support should be granted.

This can be good news for either spouse. If the paying partner doesn’t have much left after property division, the court will consider this. Their spousal support payment will probably be lower since they have less to use. Alternately, the receiving spouse could receive a greater amount of support if they don’t receive much of the marital assets.

Each Spouse’s Contribution to the Marriage

Spouses support each other in many ways. If one is the primary breadwinner, the other might be an expert homemaker. When making support decisions, courts aren’t concerned with who earned the money. They want to see how hard both parties worked to contribute to the marriage. Even if one partner made little to no money, they may have managed the home, kids, cars, pets, and so on. This work may entitle them to a greater level of support.

Balancing Spousal and Child Support

Child support decisions are made in the child’s best interests. The money is not intended for a spouse; it is strictly for the kids. Courts typically make child support decisions first, as they want to ensure the kids are kept healthy.

After property division and child support are determined, courts then look at what the paying spouse can reasonably manage. If a child support payment is already high (or low), this can affect spousal support payments.

There Was Abuse or Cheating in the Marriage

Recall that support is affected by a spouse’s contribution to the marriage. The same is true in the opposite direction. If there is evidence of abuse, the court may decide that the injured spouse deserves extra compensation.

If you are concerned about paying or receiving spousal support, reach out to our office for a free consultation. We can review your situation and offer you guidance on what to do next. Call us today at (407) 315-2006, or contact us online.

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