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Spousal Support Without Divorce in Florida

Occasionally, a unique familial situation arises in which one party seeks support from another without also seeking a divorce. In certain religious contexts, for example, spouses may be uncomfortable divorcing—but may also need to account for living and financial arrangements in line with the couple's reality. Fortunately, Florida law allows for such arrangements and provides via statute for both alimony and child support in absence of marital dissolution.

The law states as follows: "If a person having the ability to contribute to the maintenance of his or her spouse and support of his or her minor child fails to do so, the spouse who is not receiving support may apply to the court for alimony and for support for the child without seeking dissolution of marriage."

The court, then, may "enter an order as it deems just and proper."

However, because this law is so simple on its face, Florida courts have had some trouble applying it to real-world situations.

The Old Rule of the Florida Supreme Court

In 1956, the Supreme Court of Florida decided the case of Bredin v . Bredin. There, the court faced a request by an undivorced wife for alimony in lump sum form. A lower court had awarded the wife such a payment—but the Supreme Court reversed that decision and held that support in the absence of divorce could not consist of a lump sum award.

The court noted that alimony, at its core, was designed to provide a wife the necessities of life (food, clothing, housing, etc.). It considered alimony to be an "allowance" the husband can be made to pay her when she lives apart from him—whether in divorce or not. But, because of the underlying purposes of alimony, the court held that a large, lump sum payment was especially inappropriate in non-divorce settings.

Florida Appeals Court Questions the Old Rule

Recently, however, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals questioned that old case's reasoning and decision. In the 2003 case of Coltea v . Coltea, a separating couple—for religious reasons (the husband was a Romanian pastor)—did not want to divorce. But the wife sought spousal support and the trial court awarded her a lump sum payment.

For obvious reasons, the husband argued that this decision was in direct conflict with the Bredin case and insisted the appeals court reverse the lower court's decision.

But 2003 was not 1956—and the court refused to heed the husband's request. It noted that, whatever the original reasons for alimony, today's divorce laws and attitudes are much different than they once were. Spousal support is no longer an allowance and no longer tied to antiquated notions of gender roles.

In Coltea, there were reasons to believe the husband would not keep up his support payments. Therefore, an upfront, lump sum (paid out of the proceeds of the sale of the marital home) was appropriate.

"If we are wrong in this," the appeals court wrote, "our decision will be in conflict with Bredin, and the supreme court will have the jurisdiction to point us in the right direction."

But this has not happened yet.

Seeking Help for Spousal Support

If you are seeking a divorce or spousal support—or have any other family law-related questions—please reach out to our legal professionals Hager & Schwartz , P . A . in Miami today.

Categories: Alimony, Divorce