PERMANENT ALIMONY CASE REVERSED ON APPEAL

The Palm Beach and Boca Raton Divorce Lawyers of Nugent Zborowski & Bruce recently reviewed the case of Justice v. Justice, 37 Fla. Law Weekly 372e (Fla. 1st DCA Feb. 9, 2012).

In Justice, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal reversed an award of permanent periodic alimony because the trial judge failed to make findings of fact supporting the alimony award and providing a basis for meaningful appellate review.

As a background, Florida Statute Section 61.08 (the alimony statute) requires the trial court to make specific findings in granting or denying an award of alimony.

As the Justice court stated:

In order to facilitate a meaningful appellate review of the trial court’s alimony determination, it is incumbent upon the trial court to include specific findings of fact regarding the factors enumerated in section 61.08(2)(a)-(g).” Geoghegan v. Geoghegan, 969 So. 2d 482, 485 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007) (citations omitted) (reversing an award of alimony where the court was “unable to reconcile how [the former wife’s need] was determined by the trial court” due to a lack of factual findings). “The financial needs of one spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay are the primary factors for the trial court to consider,” and “the lack of adequate findings hampers meaningful appellate review.” Austin v. Austin, 12 So. 3d 314, 317-18 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009) (citations omitted). Furthermore, “Florida courts have held that eleven-year marriages fall within the grey area between short-term and long-term marriages. In grey-area marriages, there is no presumption for or against permanent alimony.” Welch v. Welch, 951 So. 2d 1017, 1019 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007) (citations omitted). See also Brathwaite v. Brathwaite, 58 So. 3d 398, 401 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011) (finding 14-year marriage fell into the “ ‘gray area’ where no presumption for or against alimony should be applied.’ ”).

Here, in the Final Judgment, the trial court found, “[appellant] shall pay to the Wife the sum of $1,000 per month as permanent periodic alimony beginning February 1, 2010 and continuing on the 1st day of each and every month thereafter until the death of either party, the Wife’s remarriage, or further order of the Court.” The trial court clearly failed to include the factual findings required by section 61.08, and the failure to do so precludes meaningful review.

Specifically, the court failed to make any findings concerning (1) the needs of the former wife; (2) appellant’s ability to pay; (3) the former wife’s need for permanent alimony; and (4) the former wife’s earning capacity. Thus, it is unclear how the trial court reached the amount of $1,000 a month, as in Geoghegan, 969 So. 2d at 485. See also Segall, 708 So. 2d at 987; Austin, 12 So. 3d at 317.

Moreover, the parties had been married 11 years when appellant filed a petition for dissolution; therefore, this case falls into the “grey area” where there is no presumption for or against alimony. Welch, 951 So. 2d at 1019. Thus, the factual findings are particularly important here. Williams v. Williams, 923 So. 2d 606, 608 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006). The total lack of factual findings here precludes meaningful review. We reverse and remand for further findings.

Click here to view the opinion in Justice v. Justice.

For more information about alimony, click Florida Alimony Resources or call (561) 844-1200 to speak to a Divorce & Family Law Attorney at the Law Offices of Nugent Zborowski & Bruce.