Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Alimony

A Florida family law court’s decision to decrease a former wife’s monthly alimony payments by 85% led her to appeal the decision in Dunn v. Dunn, 5D18-111 (Fla. 5th DCA July 12, 2019). After considering the former wife’s expenditures and inheritance she was set to receive, the trial court believed it was equitable to reduce the payments from $12,000.00 per month to $1,819.19.

The former husband owned a successful medical practice and the parties enjoyed a standard of living during the marriage that included owning private planes and traveling extensively. Approximately 15 years after the former husband filed for divorce, he moved to modify his alimony payments, arguing the former wife’s living expenses had reduced and therefore she no longer needed as much alimony. The trial court agreed with the former husband, reducing the payments and ordering the former wife to repay former husband nearly $400,000.00 after retroactive modification.

The former wife appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion. The appellate court found the trial court abused its discretion but was of the opinion that some modification of former wife’s alimony was necessary, albeit not an 85% reduction. The appellate court held, “First, the court's finding of a substantial increase in Former Wife's ability to pay her monthly expenses is unsupported by the evidence. We disagree that Former Wife's financial growth was "phenomenal" and unanticipated. [. . .] Second, regarding the finding of a significant reduction in Former Wife's needs, we find error in that the trial court viewed this case entirely from the perspective of Former Wife's current standard of living. As is apparent through its criticism of Former Wife's travel and assistance to the parties' children, the court ignored the standard of living enjoyed by the parties during the course of their marriage.”

Finally, the appellate court took issue with the ordered retroactive payment, holding, “The other errors relate to the court's ruling on the retroactive application of its decision. The modification order did not specify whether Former Wife was to pay Former Husband in lump sum, installments, or another manner, and did not state when such payment(s) were due. Additionally, despite ordering repayment in an amount totaling approximately 25% of Former Wife's investment account, the court accepted [the forensic accountant’s] figures without consideration of the retroactive payment. This was error. Former Wife's monthly investment income will substantially decrease following the repayment to Former Husband. Accordingly, the court should have recalculated Former Wife's need based on her monthly investment income following the repayment. The court also erred in failing to address the tax consequences of its retroactive ruling. The parties presented evidence that Former Wife paid income tax on her alimony and that Former Husband received a tax deduction on those payments. However, the court awarded Former Husband the entire overpayment without considering the relevant tax implications.”

Modification of alimony should be handled carefully to arrive at an equitable result. If you are on either side of a petition for modification of alimony in Florida, schedule a consultation with a Miami divorce lawyer to go over the best plan for your case.