A Florida Appellate Court recently reversed an award of “Bridge the Gap” Alimony because there were no findings of the former wife’s need for alimony for the former husband’s ability to pay the alimony award in the case of Crick v. Crick, 37 Fla. L. Weekly D267a (Fla. 2nd DCA Feb. 1, 2012).
Florida’s laws on alimony are found in Florida Statute 61.08. Specifically, Florida Statute 61.08(5) lays out the purpose of “Bridge the Gap” alimony and states as follows: “Bridge-the-gap alimony may be awarded to assist a party by providing support to allow the party to make a transition from being married to being single. Bridge-the-gap alimony is designed to assist a party with legitimate identifiable short-term needs, and the length of an award may not exceed 2 years. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony shall not be modifiable in amount or duration.”
In reversing the trial court, the Crick court stated:
“To support its alimony determination, the trial court must include specific findings of fact in the final judgment.” Austin v. Austin, 12 So. 3d 314, 317 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009) (citing § 61.08(1), Fla. Stat. (2004)). Among those required findings are the financial needs of one spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay. § 61.08(2), Fla. Stat. (2010); Austin, 12 So. 3d at 317. Moreover, “ ‘[a] trial judge must ensure that neither spouse passes automatically from misfortune to prosperity or from prosperity to misfortune, and, in viewing the totality of the circumstances, one spouse should not be “shortchanged.” ‘ ” Perez v. Perez, 11 So. 3d 470, 473 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009) (quoting Vega v. Vega, 877 So. 2d 882, 883 (Fla. 3d DCA 2004)). When determining whether a trial court abused its discretion in awarding alimony, this court considers whether the award “ ‘exceeds or nearly exhausts a party’s income’ ” and is therefore not supported by competent, substantial evidence. Id. (quoting Hotaling v. Hotaling, 962 So. 2d 1048, 1051 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007)).
Here, although the report and recommendation contained findings as to the factors listed in section 61.08(2)(a)-(g), it did not contain the requisite findings as to the need of the former wife or the former husband’s ability to pay. Neither did it include findings as to the former wife’s net or gross income or the former husband’s net income. In fact, we note that the magistrate found that after the equitable distribution the former wife would have far more resources than the former husband, that the former wife was underemployed, and that it would take her not more than eighteen months to find suitable employment. These findings, while supported by competent, substantial evidence, do not support the court’s award of alimony.
Moreover, in combination, the court-ordered monthly outlay for alimony, child support, and debt service is in excess of the former husband’s net monthly income and constitutes an abuse of discretion. See Cooper v. Cooper, 69 So. 3d 977, 981 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011). Although the magistrate did not make a net income finding for the former husband, even using the gross monthly income finding of $6666.67, the alimony award of $2000 per month for twenty-four months coupled with the temporary child support of $933.16 and the monthly debt on the marital home exhaust the former husband’s income.
Therefore, in terms of both monthly court-ordered payments and the overall financial scheme of the parties, the court abused its discretion in awarding $2000 per month in bridge-the-gap alimony. On remand, the court shall conduct further proceedings to determine the parties’ needs and ability to pay given their respective available net incomes.”
Click Bridge the Gap Alimony Case to view the Appellate Court’s decision in Crick v. Crick.