October 21, 2015

Fourth DCA Reverses Alimony Award For Lack of Supporting Factual Findings

Kelley v. Kelley, 4D14-756 (Fla. 4th DCA, Sept. 30, 2015).

A common reversible error that trial courts make in final judgments of dissolution of marriage is the failure to make sufficient factual findings to support alimony awards. Florida law requires that a trial court awarding a party alimony make findings on a specific set of statutory factors to support the award. § 61.08(1), Fla. Stat. (2015); Ondrejack v. Ondrejack, 839 So. 2d 867, 870 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003). In practice, trial courts often make insufficient findings on these statutory alimony factors, or omit the findings entirely. Appellate courts generally apply an abuse of discretion standard of review to alimony awards, but a lack of findings to support an alimony award is considered legal error that is subject to the more stringent de novo standard of review.

A good example of an appellate court’s reversal of a final judgment of dissolution due to insufficient findings to support the alimony award is the Fourth DCA’s recent reversal of the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage in Kelley v. Kelley, 4D14-756 (Fla. 4th DCA Sept. 30, 2015). In Kelley, the trial court awarded the former wife durational alimony in the final judgment of dissolution. The final judgment recited that the trial court had considered all of the statutory alimony factors in making the alimony award. The former husband appealed the final judgment.

The Fourth DCA noted on appeal that, despite the trial court’s recitation that it considered the statutory alimony factors, the trial court failed to identify or make findings as to several important factors. The alimony factors on which the trial court failed to make findings included the parties’ standard of living during the marriage, the contributions of each party to the marriage, and the sources of income available to either party. The Fourth DCA reversed because the lack of findings on these factors made it impossible for the Fourth DCA to determine whether the award of alimony to the former wife was appropriate. The Fourth DCA remanded for the trial court to “further consider the previously omitted statutory factors relative to the durational alimony award and make the appropriate findings based on the record evidence.”

** [The Fourth DCA issued its mandate in the case on October 16, 2015] **