Rehabilitative alimony is one of the best-established and most familiar forms of spousal support. Florida courts have described the purpose of rehabilitative alimony as helping the spouse who receives it to develop the capacity to become self-supporting after a divorce. This might involve redeveloping previous skills (as in the case of a professional who left the workforce for several years to become a stay-at-home parent). Rehabilitative alimony might also be used to help a spouse who had never been self-supporting get the training needed to provide for him- or herself. Section 61.08(6)(a) of the Florida Statutes confirms the purpose of rehabilitative alimony in Florida.
It may be easy to recognize when rehabilitative alimony is needed, but more than a recognition of need is necessary in order for this type of support to be awarded. There needs to be “a specific and defined rehabilitative plan as part of an order awarding rehabilitative alimony.” In other words, it’s important to do more than just acknowledge the spouse receiving this type of support needs help to become self-supporting. A specific plan geared toward making that happen must be put in place.
For this reason, Florida courts have found on appeal that a trial court (where the original alimony decision was made) made a mistake in awarding rehabilitative alimony without making factual findings relating to the award.
WHEN CAN REHABILITATIVE ALIMONY BE AWARDED?
If, because of the marriage, a spouse was unable to become self-supporting or chose not to be, he or she may receive rehabilitative alimony. If the marriage is considered to have been a short-term one, it must have had an impact on the employability of the spouse seeking support. Even if a spouse is self-sufficient at the time of divorce, rehabilitative alimony may still be proper if it allows the spouse to increase his or her earning potential over the course of a career in that field.
The term “self-supporting” deserves some attention. Under Florida law, the standard is not just whether the person seeking alimony has a job and some income, but what his or her standard of living would be compared to the standard of living enjoyed by the couple during the marriage.
If a spouse is asking for rehabilitative alimony, he or she must offer “competent, substantial evidence” that the education or training the rehabilitation plan provides for will actually increase his or her earning potential. The plan should also take into account the requesting spouse’s cost of living at the marital standard while training to become self-supporting, especially if the spouse was a homemaker or unemployed during the marriage.
Courts have discretion as to what they may include in rehabilitative alimony, such as vocational counseling, continuing education courses to maintain a professional license, and travel expenses and registration for those courses. Documenting the need for various expenses in the rehabilitation plan is important to support the court in finding that they are necessary, and this is where having an attorney skilled in these cases is essential. If the spouse requesting rehabilitative alimony also needs a specific length of time to complete training, that should be specified in the plan as well.
In some cases, it is wise to tie an award of rehabilitative alimony to certain milestones, such as taking a particular entrance exam or getting a degree within a certain time frame. An experienced Florida alimony attorney can help ensure that the time frame set forth in a rehabilitation plan is effective and reasonable.
CAN REHABILITATIVE ALIMONY BE MODIFIED OR TERMINATED?
Florida Statutes Section 61.08(6) was amended in 2011 to make clear that the rehabilitation plan of the party asking for alimony needed to be spelled out in the order for rehabilitative alimony. This change in the statute simply reflected what Florida courts had been expressing for years in cases on this issue.
The amendments also shed light on the issues of modifying and terminating rehabilitative alimony in Florida. The statute does not explicitly say how long an award of rehabilitative alimony may or must last. However, it does make clear that a court order for rehabilitative alimony must set a termination date for the award.
The statute also provides for certain circumstances in which rehabilitative alimony may be modified or terminated. An award may be modified or terminated: if there has been a substantial change in circumstances; if the recipient of alimony has not been compliant with the rehabilitative plan; or if the rehabilitative plan has been completed.
Florida courts do have the discretion to convert rehabilitative alimony to permanent alimony under some circumstances. For this to happen, it is necessary to show that the requesting spouse was unable to become self-supporting, despite reasonable and diligent attempts to comply with the rehabilitation plan.
If you have questions about rehabilitative alimony in Florida or would like to discuss your situation, we invite you to contact divorce lawyer Antonio Jimenez today to schedule an in-person consultation.