What Is the Legal Burden of Proof for Modifying an Alimony or Child Support Agreement?
When seeking a modification of an alimony obligation, a Florida judge will require proof that there has been a “substantial” change in the parties’ circumstances that was not expected or anticipated at the time of the original order. And with respect to alimony governed by a settlement agreement, Florida law states that the burden of proof on the party seeking modification is the same as when the agreement was first established.
First District Continues to Follow Different Rule Than Other Florida Appellate Courts
Yet there remains some uncertainty into the law as to this burden of proof requirement. A recent decision from the Florida First District Court of Appeal, Knowlton v. Knowlton, highlights the problem. In this case, a Duval County couple divorced after 20 years of marriage. Both parties signed a marital settlement agreement, which required the former husband to pay the former wife over $4,000 per month in alimony and child support.
Later, the former husband asked the court to modify his support obligations. In support of his request, the former husband said he was now in his 60s, “unemployed for several years,” and his assets were depleted. Conversely, the former wife’s “financial circumstances had improved substantially.”
The trial court denied the former husband’s request for modification, explaining that he failed to meet the “heavy burden” to justify modifying the terms of the settlement agreement.
On appeal to the First District, the former husband argued that it was improper for the trial court to impose a “heavy” burden of proof, as that conflicted with the 1993 amendment to Florida law, which stated the burden of proof in a modification proceeding is no different than when the original settlement was approved.
The First District rejected the appeal. The court explained that under its prior rulings, the trial judge was entitled to require a heavy burden of proof. Indeed, this was effectively the position of most Florida appeals courts prior to the 1993 amendment. But while the other courts have backed off their prior position in light of the amendment, the First District–or the Florida Supreme Court for that matter–has not.
And although the First District said the former husband “makes a compelling argument” to follow the lead of the other state appeals courts, the problem was that he never raised this issue before the trial court. As a general rule, appellate courts will not consider new legal arguments that were not initially brought before the trial judge. Consequently, the First District said it must leave the question of whether to reconsider its burden of proof in alimony modification cases “for another day.”
Speak with a Boca Raton Alimony & Child Support Modification Lawyer Today
Dealing with potentially outdated legal precedent is just one of the many challenges you may face in seeking to modify an alimony or child support obligation. This is why it is important to work with an experienced Boca Raton modification attorney who is up-to-date on the current state of Florida law. Contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, at 561-488-7788 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a lawyer today.