‘Permanent’ alimony no longer exists in Florida. Understanding the state’s new law on divorce payments

A 77-year-old South Florida woman has been worried lately. Married for more than 30 years, she was divorced in 2006 and has been collecting alimony ever since. It’s not enough to live on — just over $1,000 a month. But it’s hers, and she needs it.

“It was called permanent alimony,” she said. “It would go away if I got remarried, but I’ve never been remarried. Why would I want to get remarried? I’m too old!”

Now she is concerned that a new state law will strip her of the monthly payment she’s been counting on for 17 years.

The law, which went into effect July 1, restricts the ability of women (and sometimes men) to collect alimony for the rest of their lives for marriages that ended after July 1. While payment agreements in the past were the result of tough negotiations between tougher lawyers, the new law sets clearly defined limits on how long anyone can expect to make or receive alimony payments after a marriage goes south.

Lawyers say they are getting flooded with questions from ex-wives and ex-husbands worried (or hoping) that the new law will affect the agreements they reached. The answer, attorneys said, is —  probably not.

For short-term marriages, those lasting less than a decade, alimony payments can no longer last more than half the term of the marriage. Those who were married a decade, for example, can expect their payments to end after five years.

“Moderate” term marriages lasting up to 20 years can expect alimony lasting 60% of the term of the marriage.

For long-term marriages like the South Florida senior’s, alimony can last 75% of the length of the marriage.

So even if the new law were to apply retroactively, it would not affect the 77-year-old until 2029.

But it does not apply retroactively, according to divorce lawyers who spoke to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Ex-husbands (and ex-wives) who think they got a raw deal when a judge approved their alimony payments may be able to get their payments adjusted, but they will have to do it under the old law.

“There was always the possibility of modifying the award,” said West Palm Beach divorce lawyer Matthew Lane. “There had to be a substantial, material, unanticipated, involuntary and permanent change in circumstances. If that happened, courts always had the ability to go back in and modify.”

That has not changed, he said.

But the new law did not suddenly empower ex-payers to suddenly demand relief that was not available before July 1, 2023.

“The new law is geared toward the assumption that both parties are working,” said Fort Lauderdale lawyer Lindsay Chase. The prior law allowed for permanent alimony in cases where couples were married for more than 17 years. That law assumed gender roles that had not been taken for granted in lower- and middle-class families for decades — husbands and fathers were the breadwinners and wives and mothers were the homemakers. A divorce in those circumstances would devastate the woman, Chase said. Alimony helped correct it.

“You can identify the person who benefits the least from the new law,” she said. “It’s the older woman, the homemaker. Those are the ones who are going to be most hurt.”

The new law has no effect on child support, the attorneys said.

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