In Florida Case, Unexpected Medical Downturn Allows Modification of Alimony on Appeal
Brandon, FL (Law Firm Newswire) August 15, 2014 – Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals (DCA) recently ruled that deterioration in a former spouse’s health can usually support a reduction in his or her alimony obligation.
In Garvey v. Garvey, a former husband sought to modify his alimony obligation to his former wife after his multiple sclerosis (MS) began causing significant health problems. The decision hinged on whether the alimony agreement had been made in anticipation of such a turn in his health.
“I think the Fourth DCA made the right decision here,” said Attorney O. Reginald Osenton, who is not involved in the case. “But it’s important to note that this ruling was not a foregone conclusion simply because the former husband’s health deteriorated. The idea of whether the husband had anticipated his decline in health was key.”
In 2000, the husband had agreed to provide his former wife with permanent periodic alimony of $5000 per month. At the time, he had been living with MS for 14 years. He was still working full time and had been told by a doctor that his MS was benign. However, in 2011, he suffered an MS attack that partially paralyzed him and left him with an assortment of physical, mental and emotional issues. He was unable to remain at his job.
Initially, the trial court denied his petition to modify the alimony agreement on the grounds that he had been told that MS was a very unpredictable disease that could result in permanent and significant disability — and he had agreed to the alimony with that knowledge. But the Fourth DCA disagreed, pointing out that the alimony agreement was silent regarding the disease and noting the lack of evidence that the parties had considered the possibility that the former husband might become unable to work.
“Anyone who, since entering into an alimony agreement, has experienced a decline in health, particularly in an unexpected way, should speak with their divorce attorney about a modification,” said Osenton.