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When determining support payments, financial details are often involved, which our CFL™ course covers to round out your knowledge. In calculating support payments, legal timelines are also crucial. Certain states, like Florida, go by the length of a marriage in setting permanent alimony. That issue became the subject of debate in the recent appeals court case of Williams v. Jones.

Larry Williams filed for divorce after 16 years and eleven months of marriage, one month shy of the Florida legal requirement for a long-term marriage. The final judgment granted his former wife, Celesta Jones, permanent alimony, and Mr. Williams had to pay her attorney’s fees and costs. In his appeal, Mr. Williams claimed the trial court abused its discretion in granting permanent rather than durational alimony and in requiring him to pay the court-related costs.

District Court of Appeal of Florida Verdict

The appeals court found no abuse of discretion. 

It saw Ms. Jones’s health issues as “undisputed” and agreed with the trial court decision that they prevented her from working a regular job for the foreseeable future. She hadn’t worked for nearly a decade before the couple’s separation.

The appeals court agreed with the trial court that it was a long-term union, stating that “One month is a de minimis period given the length of the marriage, and the trial court was permitted to overcome the presumption as to the length of the marriage necessary to qualify as a long-term marriage. There is a rebuttable presumption that a long-term marriage warrants an award of permanent alimony. See Broemer v. Broemer, 109 So.3d 284, 289 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013).

Even if the parties’ marriage falls into the ‘grey area’ between a long and a short-term marriage, consideration of the other factors set forth in section 61.08(2), Florida Statutes, beyond the duration of the marriage, including the earning capacity of Jones, warranted an award of permanent alimony. See Zeigler v. Zeigler, 635 So.2d 50, 54 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994). As noted, there is competent, substantial evidence that Jones’ health precludes employment.”

The appeals court added that though Jones was 53 at the time of the divorce, a person’s age isn’t a “valid basis to deny permanent alimony” without evidence that the former spouse’s “relative youth would allow that former spouse to earn income sufficient to support a lifestyle consistent with that enjoyed during the marriage.”

Regarding Ms. Jones’ attorney’s fees and costs, the appeals court decided Mr. Williams had to pay half of them. Per Florida law, with Ms. Jones’ support award, the equitable marital asset distributions, and the parties similar monthly net incomes, the court reasoned that the “record lacks a finding” that Ms. Jones’ fees were “reasonable.”

A greater understanding of these and other fundamentals of support matters not only adds to your knowledge but it can also help you attract and retain new clients. The CFL™ designation isn’t just another credential, it shows that you’re an expert in the financial aspects of family law. And if your caseload is slow, now’s the time to brush up on your skills. Find out more in our free information packet today. Support is just one of the many tricky financial issues in family law. To stay informed about compensation, register for our free webinar, Divide and Conquer: Stock Option and RSUs Considerations in Divorce at 3:00 pm on July 30th. We will uncover the hidden pitfalls of working with stock options, restricted stock units, and payouts during divorce and how to apply these concepts to other compensation. Space is limited, so reserve your spot now!