For many types of family
law payments, including
support, there are laws and statutory provisions that govern
modifications. Payments as originally conceived are not set in stone, so to speak. For good reason, judges may permit upward or downward modifications, when circumstances and the law allow. And there are even situations in which alimony, for example, is
automatically terminated—even without the consent or request of any party.
Under Florida law, alimony, whether durational, "bridge-the-gap," or even permanent, ends at the death of either the recipient or the payer (or on the remarriage of the recipient). Meaning, if a payer-husband dies before his ex-wife dies, his estate need not continue making alimony payments and vice-versa.
This rule is only a legal presumption, however. The parties themselves are permitted to work around the rule if they so desire.
The Florida Supreme Court's Evolving Approach to Post-Death Alimony
Automatic alimony termination at death has a long history in Florida (as elsewhere). Almost a century ago, the Supreme
Florida declared that "[a]s a general rule the obligation to pay alimony dies with the person, but agreements of the husband to bind his representatives to do this have been upheld, and there is no prohibition against them in this state."
What constitutes sufficient agreement to continue payments after death, however, has not always been an easy question to answer.
In the 1957 case of Johnson
v. Every, the Florida Supreme Court held that it is enough for an agreement to
imply that payments are to continue past the death of the payer. There, the separation agreement stated that payments were to continue "until the death of the wife." The Court reasoned that this implied that the husband's estate was still liable to pay alimony because the express condition of the agreement had not yet come to pass (only the husband had died).
By 1980, though, the Court had changed its mind. Such conditional language was held not—and today, is not—enough to bind the estate of the payer. Agreeing to continue payments past death must be explicit. Such an agreement must include language that references death and the decision to run against the presumption that payments cease upon this event. Merely stating alimony is to run "until the death" of the other spouse is insufficient.
Lump Sum Payments as an "Exception"
There do exist some small exceptions to the general rule that death ends alimony. For example, in the 2013 case of Kuchera
v. Kuchera, a Florida appeals court pointed out that if alimony is categorizable as
lump sum alimony, the death of the recipient will not end the obliged spouse's estate's liability.
This type of alimony is vested in the recipient—and no event can take that right away. If, by chance, the obliged spouse dies before he or she was able to pay lump sum alimony that he or she already owed by law, the death will be immaterial to that obligation.
Contact a South Florida Alimony Attorney for Help
If you need help requesting, modifying, or seeking alimony payments or have any other family law-related inquiries, please reach out to the legal professionals at Hager, Schwartz & Ross, P.A. in Miami to learn how we can help.