HOW DO I MODIFY MY ALIMONY WHEN MY EX IS LIVING WITH SOMEONE ELSE? SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIPS IN FLORIDA.
Florida law allows for the modification or termination of alimony based on the existence of a supportive relationship. It is common for a former spouse receiving alimony to cohabitate with a member of the opposite sex (or in some cases the same sex) following a divorce. The difficult question is when does cohabitation rise to the level of a supportive relationship sufficient to justify modification of an existing alimony obligation? The answer is not always clear. There is no bright line definition of a supportive relationship in Florida, instead the Florida Legislator has delineated a set of factors for courts to consider when determining the existence of a supportive relationship.
FLORIDA’S SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIP STATUTORY FACTORS
Florida’s supportive relationship statutory factors, in quotations and highlighted in blue below, are found in Florida Statutes, Section 61.14:
“a. The extent to which the obligee and the other person have held themselves out as a married couple by engaging in conduct such as using the same last name, using a common mailing address, referring to each other in terms such as “my husband” or “my wife,” or otherwise conducting themselves in a manner that evidences a permanent supportive relationship.”
In the most obvious example, the couple in a supportive relationship holds themselves out as married and refers to each other as “husband” or “wife”; however, the court may find the couple “acts married” with other conduct.
Examples of “other conduct” the court may look for include but are not limited to:
- Is the couple romantically involved?
- Does the couple attend church, family weddings or other family events?
- Does the couple travel together?
- Does the couple provide emotional support to each other?
“b. The period of time that the obligee has resided with the other person in a permanent place of abode.”
The length of the relationship is a critical factor courts will look to when determining the existence of a supportive relationship. A supportive relationship is unlikely to be formed in a few months. In contrast to a few months, a couple who has resided together for many years is more likely to be deemed to be in a supportive relationship. In Bruce v. Bruce, Case. No. 5D15-2136 (Fla. 5th DCA 2018), the court noted “…financial support alone does not define a supportive relationship.” The Bruce court stated a court must also analyze “…the length and nature of the live-in relationship…”
“c. The extent to which the obligee and the other person have pooled their assets or income or otherwise exhibited financial interdependence.”
Financial interdependence is an important factor to prove the existence of a supportive relationship. It is hard to modify alimony based on a supportive relationship without a reduction of need from the former spouse. In the clearest cases, there are bank accounts shared by the supportive couple, but in other cases supportive couples will attempt to hide financial interdependence by using cash or other means. While financial interdependence seems like a straightforward factor, in many cases it is hard to prove. Discovery tools such as depositions and subpoenas may be necessary to determine if financial interdependence exists, particularly if the supportive couple is concealing their financial interdependence. Here is a non-exhaustive list of questions to consider when analyzing this factor:
- Does the couple have joint bank accounts?
- Does the supportive couple share expenses to reduce need?
- Does the supportive couple share expenses through cash transactions?
- Does the receipt former spouse receive cash from their new supportive partner?
- Does one partner pay all of the supportive couple’s entertainment or travel expense?
- Does the supportive couple share a cell phone plan?
“d. The extent to which the obligee or the other person has supported the other, in whole or in part.”
The extend of support is important because minor levels support, for example, buying an occasions meal, are less likely to be grounds to reduce alimony based on a supportive relationship than payment of all the former spouse’s living expenses.
“e. The extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other.”
Support does not always need to a be financial transaction. For example, a former spouse may assist a supportive partner taking care of an elderly parent to allow the other partner to focus on earning money. In Murphy v. Murphy, 201 So. 3d 18, 24 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2013), the court found the former wife’s partner performed valuable services for the former wife by mowing the grass, cleaning the pool, washing the former wife’s car, and assisting with household chores. The Murphy court reduced the former wife’s alimony obligation by $700.00 from $4200 per month to $3500 per month based on these valuable services even though the former wife’s supportive partner did not provide her any direct financial assistance. Id. at 25.
“f. The extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other’s company or employer.”
The most common example of this factor is when a supportive partner assists a self-employed partner run a business. For example, answering phones, bookkeeping, and marketing for the other supportive partner.
“g. Whether the obligee and the other person have worked together to create or enhance anything of value.”
Examples of this factor could be remodeling a home, building a business, or managing rental property.
“h. Whether the obligee and the other person have jointly contributed to the purchase of any real or personal property.”
Does the supportive couple own a home or second home together? Co-owning a home not only demonstrates financial interdependence but is an indication that supportive couple is also acting like a married couple.
“i. Evidence in support of a claim that the obligee and the other person have an express agreement regarding property sharing or support.”
Does the couple have an express agreement regarding finances? The most common agreement is when one partner pays the other partner rent pursuant to a rental agreement? If there is a rental agreement, you may want to ask if the supportive partner is claiming the rent on his or her taxes or if the rent is paid.
“j. Evidence in support of a claim that the obligee and the other person have an implied agreement regarding property sharing or support.”
Implied agreements are usually more difficult to prove. A good tool for determining the existence of implied agreement is a deposition. Prior to the deposition, review bank statements to see if the recipient former spouse is paying typical bills such as phone, internet, cable and power. The absence of some or all these common bills may indicate the existence of an implied agreement.
“k. Whether the obligee and the other person have provided support to the children of one another, regardless of any legal duty to do so.”
Is the former spouse assisting the supportive partner or receiving work related child care to enable the supportive partners to earn more money? Does the supportive partner pay for camps, medical expenses or daycare for the alimony recipient former spouse?
Before filing a supplemental petition to modify alimony based on the existence of a supportive relationship, it is best to consult with an experienced family law attorney in your area. Why? Unless it is a clear-cut case, proving a supportive relationship can be challenging. See Zeballos v. Zeballos, 951 So. 2nd 972 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) for an example of clear-cut example of a supportive relationship. In Zeballos, the alimony recipient spouse’s supportive partner paid almost all of her living expenses. Id. at 974.
More often the facts are not as straightforward as Zeballos; therefore, proving a supportive relationship requires both knowledge of the law and effective use of discovery tools, such as depositions, subpoenas and requests for production of documents. Discovery can be time consuming and expensive. Due to the expense of litigation, it is important to consider the likelihood of success before embarking on a post-judgment supportive relationship claim.
If you file a supplemental petition to modify alimony based on supportive relationship and your claim is denied by a court, it may be difficult to prove a supportive relationship in the future. A premature claim will likely educate the alimony recipient former spouse on the factors courts examine when determining the existence of a supportive relationship.
If you are in Northeast Florida and have questions about supportive relationships, you may contact my office through this website to schedule a consultation.