Regardless of whether a divorce involves a couple who are worth billions or who are virtually penniless, two integral criteria factor into calculating alimony: the receiving spouse’s need and the paying spouse’s ability to pay. In the case of one multi-million dollar Florida divorce, the 2d District Court of Appeal reversed an award of permanent, periodic alimony not because it exceeded the husband’s ability to pay but because it was greater than what the wife had established that she needed.
The couple in this case was Michael Sikora and his wife, Carole Sikora. The husband was a manager of a group of large, national law firms, and, at one point, his income exceeded $1 million per year. In 2011, Sikora and his wife, after 31 years of marriage, began divorce proceedings. The evidence indicated that the couple had a net worth of $4 million, which the trial court’s equitable distribution award split roughly 50-50.
The trial court also awarded the wife a $25,000 lump sum to cover medical and dental expenses that accrued during the period while the divorce case was pending. In addition, the wife received $17,500 per month in permanent alimony, with the court ordering the husband to purchase a $2 million life insurance policy to secure that alimony obligation.
The appeals court agreed with the husband that the periodic alimony award was too high. An alimony award should reflect the receiving spouse’s established need. This need means, in part, allowing the receiving spouse to continue to maintain the lifestyle that she had previously enjoyed while married.
In the Sikoras’ case, the wife alleged a need of $17,800, but $6,100 of that amount was related to a Maryland home that the couple had already sold. Except for a period when the couple’s Maryland house was not selling due to the poor housing market, the couple had never maintained a “two-home lifestyle.” The wife’s alimony need, as a result, should not include expenses related to the Maryland home, or any second home. The trial court also decided that the wife’s claim for vacation expenses exceeded her need by $620 per month. These two reductions placed the wife’s need at $11,000 per month. Since the trial court did not offer a specific explanation of the exact factual details that led it to award the wife an amount $6,500 greater than her established need, the alimony award could not stand.
The lump sum alimony award also did not survive on appeal. The trial court awarded the wife $25,000 purportedly to compensate for medical and dental costs that occurred while the case was ongoing. However, the wife’s total medical and dental expenses were $85,000, not $25,000, and all but $8,900 of that amount was already paid. Concluding that there “was simply no evidence to justify the $25,000 lump sum alimony award, and the trial court made no findings to explain its rationale,” the appeals court sent this part of the ruling back to the trial court as well.
In many divorces, the difficulty with alimony may be that the receiving spouse’s need may exceed the paying spouse’s ability to pay. With some high net worth divorces, the problem may be different, since it may involve a receiving spouse asserting a claim for an amount that the paying spouse can afford, but that is in excess of the receiving spouse’s needs. For skillful and determined representation regarding alimony and all other elements of your high-asset divorce case, talk to the Florida family law attorneys at Stok Folk + Kon. Our attorneys are ready to provide you with the excellent counsel and advocacy that you and your family deserve.
Contact us online or by calling (305) 935-4440 to schedule your consultation.
More blog posts:
Your Florida Divorce’s Impact on the Business Interests You and Your Spouse Co-Own, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, July 2, 2015
Husband Wins New Hearing Regarding $3.5M in Disputed Withdrawals from Marital Accounts, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, March 27, 2015