Before a court can divide property between divorcing spouses, it must first determine whether the property is eligible for division. This is because only marital property may be divided in divorces. In Florida, most assets and debts acquired during the marriage, whether by one or both spouses, are considered marital property and part of the marital estate. On the other hand, property one spouse acquired before the marriage or during the marriage by inheritance or gift is the separate property of that spouse and not generally divisible. As an equitable distribution state, Florida divides the marital estate in a manner that is fair and just, though not necessarily equal. To make this decision, the court evaluates several factors, such as the duration of the marriage, each spouse's financial circumstances and each party's contributions to the marriage. Once the court makes its distribution order, it cannot be modified except under the rare circumstance of fraud, where a spouse hid assets or intentionally undervalued property.
In Florida, alimony -- or spousal support -- will only be awarded if there is a need and ability to pay, and it may come in different forms. Bridge-the-Gap alimony is money awarded to help a spouse transition from married to single life and cannot be modified once awarded. For example, a spouse may be awarded Bridge-the-Gap alimony to use for a new place to live or to buy a car. Rehabilitative alimony is awarded to help a spouse become self-supporting, usually through education or job training. Permanent alimony is typically awarded in cases of long-term marriages -- more than 17 years -- and lasts until the recipient spouse remarries or either spouse dies. Durational alimony is money provided to a needy spouse for a limited period of time, not to exceed the length of the marriage. The court may order alimony to be paid in periodic payments, in a lump sum, or both.
Florida courts can look at spousal misconduct when dividing property or awarding alimony. For example, if one spouse lavished his mistress with money and gifts or used marital funds to support a gambling or drug habit, depleting the spouses' financial resources, the court may award more property or alimony to the innocent spouse to compensate for the loss. The court may also award the innocent spouse more property if the other spouse attempted to hide assets, as in the case of one spouse secretly transferring money and property to a third party to hide until the divorce is over.
What Is Modifiable?
Once the divorce decree is issued, only certain terms of the divorce may be modified and usually upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. For example, child custody and support orders in Florida are always modifiable. For custody orders, a substantial change may be the occurrence of domestic violence or the child's planned relocation. For child support orders, the noncustodial parent's loss of income due to unemployment or having additional children to support may constitutes grounds for modification. With respect to alimony, a substantial change may be the recipient spouse's remarriage or the paying spouse's retirement and resulting decreased income. To modify an award of alimony, not only must there be a substantial change in circumstances, the change must also be permanent and unlikely to change.