During the divorce process, one spouse may fight for spousal support. If the support is awarded, the paying spouse must comply. In the divorce decree, the parameters of the spousal support are outlined, and this can include the duration of the alimony. It could be only a few years or it could be many years. Regardless of what the duration is, spousal support cannot be modified or terminated early unless certain conditions or circumstances are present.
One such circumstance is when the former spouse receiving the alimony cohabitates with another. In Florida, there is a law for this: the Supportive Relationship law. Here's what you should know about it – whether or not you are the one paying or receiving the alimony payments.
What is Florida's Supportive Relationship Law?
According to Florida Stat. § 61.14(1)(b), alimony can be terminated when the receiving spouse (also referred to as payee or obligee), cohabitates or engages in a supportive relationship. This generally means the payee is living with someone as though marriage but absent a marriage certificate. But what constitutes a supportive relationship that would qualify as a reason to reduce or terminate alimony is a question for a trial court to answer. Pursuant to Murphy v. Murphy, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D2283 (Fla. 3d DCA November 6, 2013), two considerations must be addressed:
- Does the cohabitant provide financial support to the recipient ex-spouse; or
- Does the recipient ex-spouse financially support the cohabitant?
If the recipient spouse is engaged in a living arrangement with another person, it is possible the Supportive Relationship law could be invoked successfully. That said, living with another person does not automatically mean a supportive relationship with respect to this law exists.
What Constitutes a Supportive Relationship in Florida?
A supportive relationship occurs when the relationship:
[t]akes the financial place of a marriage and necessarily decreases the need of the obligee. Overton v. Overton, 34 So. 3d 759, 761 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010) (quoting French v. French, 4 So. 3d 5, 6 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009))
Financial support is not enough, because an ex-spouse could live with family members and benefit from their financial support. Florida Stat. § 61.14(1)(b), however, requires the financial support to be equivalent to a marriage. Thus, living with a family member who supports the ex-spouse would not qualify as a reason to reduce or end alimony. Only when the ex-spouse is cohabitating, or engaging in a sexual relationship and living with another person as though they are married but do not have a marriage certificate – then the supportive relationship qualifies as a reason to reduce or terminate alimony.
The rationale behind this law is simple: more and more people are cohabitating, couples are living together without getting officially married. Alimony typically ends upon remarriage, and so this law closes the gap created when recipients of alimony enjoy a supportive relationship but continue to receive alimony to the detriment of the payor.
If you are the payor and want to reduce or terminate alimony based on this cohabitation law, then you have the burden to prove the supportive relationship by a preponderance of the evidence. Your attorney will be thorough in the discovery stage of the process. Contact an experienced divorce attorney in Orlando today if you suspect your ex-spouse may be trying to take advantage of the system while in a supportive relationship.