How long does income have to be decreased before alimony can be modified?

In Florida, some types of alimony are modifiable by petitioning the court. Modification cannot take place just because one person wants to either pay less or receive more, but instead must occur after a substantial change in circumstances that is permanent and involuntary. This requirement of a substantial change in circumstances is the legal burden that the party seeking a modification must prove before the alimony can be modified. This burden must be proven and supported by competent, substantial evidence. So what does all of this legal language mean if you pay alimony and your income decreases?

In Jarrard v. Jarrard, the Second District Court of Appeal addressed this very issue. In this case, the Former Husband’s income decreased by at least half as a result of new employment. This reduction had been consistent for two years before the trial court made a decision about whether this substantial change was “permanent” enough to justify a modification of alimony. The trial court decided that the Former Husband had to prove what his income would be in future years to show that the two-year reduction is permanent in nature. This was an incorrect decision. The appellate court, in reviewing this decision, decided that this was inappropriate, and that predicting future income was too uncertain to be reliable. Instead, the appellate court referred to other cases which have ruled that reductions of almost a year were permanent enough, as long as there was no apparent immediate increase in income.

The answer to whether a change in income in permanent enough is always going to be a case by case decision. There is no simple or clear answer to this question, and more than likely the issue will have to be tried in court.