The alimony laws in Florida permit modifying or terminating an alimony obligation in the instance of a supportive relationship being created. Often, a former spouse that was awarded alimony will choose to cohabitate with another partner after the divorce proceedings have been finalized. The challenging issue is determining at what point cohabitation reaches a point that constitutes the requisite level of a supportive relationship that suffices to warrant modification or termination of an individual’s existing alimony responsibilities. The answer is not always as clear-cut as one would think. The Florida statutory framework does not provide a definitive, easily-applicable definition of a supportive relationship. Alternatively, the Florida Legislature has established a series of factors for courts to take into consideration when ruling on the existence of a supportive relationship.
Factors Indicating a Florida Supportive Relationship
The factors courts weigh into their decision-making process when evaluating a supportive relationship are delineated in F.S. § 61.14:
- The extent to which the oblige and the other person have held themselves out as a married couple by engaging in conduct such as using the same last name, using a common mailing address, referring to each other in terms such as “my husband” or “my wife,” or otherwise conducting themselves in a manner that evidences a permanent supportive relationship.
In the most apparent example outlined in the above statutory clause, the couple at issue presents themselves as married and calls each other husband or wife; however, the court may adjudge that a couple acts married based on other conduct or actions—which include, but are not limited to:
- Whether the couple is romantically involved
- Whether the couple attends religious services, family weddings and other events together
- Whether the couple travels together
- Whether the couple offers each other emotional support
Additionally, sub-section (b) of F.S. § 61.14 specifies that the length of the relationship is also a relevant factor in the supportive relationship analysis:
- The period of time that the obligee has resided with the other person in a permanent place of abode.
How long the couple has been living together is a substantial factor that the court will weigh when determining whether or not a supportive relationship exists. A supportive relationship is not likely to be established over the course of a couple of months. On the other hand, a couple who has lived together for several years is far more likely to be considered in a supportive relationship. Florida case precedent supports this view. In Bruce v. Bruce, Case. No.5D15-2136 (Fla.5th DCA 2018), the court explained that “…financial support alone does not define a supportive relationship…the length and nature of the live-in relationship must also be analyzed.”
The comprehensive financial circumstances of the relationship being evaluated for supportive status is also a pertinent aspect for the court to consider—as sub-sections (c)-(k) of F.S. § 61.14 sets out the next factor:
- The extent to which the obligee and the other person have pooled their assets or income or otherwise exhibited financial interdependence.
- The extent to which the obligee or the other person has supported the other, in whole or in part
- The extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other
- The extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other’s company or employer
- Whether the obligee and the other person have worked together to create or enhance anything of value
- Whether the obligee and the other person have jointly contributed to the purchase of any real or personal property
- Evidence in support of a claim that the obligee and other person have an express agreement regarding property sharing or support
- Whether the obligee and the other person have provided support to the children of one another, regardless of any legal duty to do so
Financial interdependence is a key element to indicate the establishment of a supportive relationship. It is difficult to modify alimony premised on the existence of a supportive relationship without a corresponding decrease of need from the former spouse. In the most straightforward scenarios, the cohabitating couple have shared bank accounts; however, it is not unusual for couples in these type of cases to attempt to mask their financial interdependence by using only cash or having multiple bank accounts.
Although financial interdependence sounds like a simple factor to prove, in many instances it is challenging. Discovery methods such as depositions and subpoenas may be need in order to determine whether or not financial interdependence truly is present, especially if the supportive couple is actively concealing the fact in an attempt to gain additional money via the incoming alimony payments. Below is a list of questions the court may consider when determining the factor of financial interdependence:
- Does the couple share joint bank accounts?
- Does the couple share expenditures to decrease need?
- Does the couple share spending via cash transactions?
- Does the current alimony recipient receive cash or money from their new partner?
- Does one partner cover all of the couple’s living expenses?
- Does the couple have a shared cell phone plan?
Contact a Trustworthy Family Law Attorney With a Proven Track Record of Success
Prior to filing a supplemental petition for the modification or termination of alimony based on the establishment of a supportive relationship, it is essential that you seek the guidance of an experienced family lawyer. These types of cases entail the application of nuanced and complex statutes and proving the existence of a supportive relationship requires thorough research and exceptional legal acumen.
The skilled and knowledgeable attorneys at Beller & Bustamante, P.L. can assist you in developing a strategic and effective litigation strategy to maximize the chances of success when it comes to your alimony reduction or termination petition. We pride ourselves in conducting thorough and accurate research, zealously advocating for our client’s interests and ensuring that their legal rights and options are fully protected at all stages of the case. Contact us today for a free case evaluation and learn how we can help you address all of your legal questions and concerns.