When Can a Florida Court “Impute” Income to an Ex-Spouse in an Alimony Modification Proceeding?
When a Florida court decides cases involving alimony or child support, the judge may “impute” income to one of the parties. Basically, this means the judge assumes the party should have a certain amount of additional income, even if they do not. For example, if one spouse is capable of working but chooses not to, the judge may “impute” the income to that spouse based on an estimate of what they would likely earn in the job market.
Second District: Marital Settlement Agreement Prevents Imputation of Income to Ex-Wife
But what if the spouses sign an agreement regarding alimony that makes no mention of imputing income? Can the spouse required to pay alimony later ask a judge to modify the agreement based on imputed income? According to a recent decision from a Florida appeals court, the answer is “no.”
This particular case, Judy v. Judy, involved a couple that was married for 26 years. They decided to divorce in 2012. Both spouses signed a marital settlement agreement (MSA), which was approved by the court as part of a formal divorce decree. As relevant here, the MSA provided the former husband would pay the former wife $4,500 per month in alimony for a fixed period of 8 years. While the duration could not be modified, the amount could be changed after-the-fact if the former husband lost his job involuntarily.
In February 2017, the former husband was unemployed. He filed a petition to modify the 2012 MSA’s alimony provision as described above. As it turned out, he found a new job a month later. The modification petition continued to proceed, however, and a magistrate decided the former husband’s obligation should be reduced from $4,500 to $2,655.92 per month. The magistrate made this decision, in part, after imputing income to the former wife. Specifically, the magistrate determined the former wife was voluntarily unemployed and physically able to work.
The Florida Second District Court of Appeal said the decision to impute income was inappropriate. The MSA provided for the former wife should receive alimony for a fixed term of 8 years. There was nothing in the agreement that required the former wife “to seek employment after the dissolution of the marriage.” By imputing income to the former wife in this circumstance, the Second District said the magistrate effectively rewrote the terms of the MSA. This was not permitted by Florida law.
The Second District noted the former wife had not worked full-time since 1994, prior to the birth of the couple’s children. Indeed, at the time of the divorce, the wife “was not employed and had not been employed for some time.” The former husband was well aware of these facts when he agreed to the MSA. Had he wished to allow for imputed income as a consideration in modifying alimony, he could have raised the issue before signing the agreement. Consequently, the appeals court returned the case to the lower court, with instructions not to impute any income to the wife.
Speak with a Florida Alimony Lawyer Today
As with any legally binding contract, it is important to carefully read and understand all of the provisions of a marital settlement agreement before signing on the dotted line. If you need legal advice or representation from a qualified Boca Raton divorce attorney, contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, today at 561-488-7788 to schedule a consultation.