William S. Graessle of William S. Graessle, P.A., Jacksonville, for Appellant.
Terrie Galligar, pro se, Appellee.
The former husband appeals the trial court's amended order granting his petition to reduce alimony payments to his former wife and directing him to pay a portion of the former wife's attorney's fees. Of the multiple issues raised by the former husband, we reverse on two. First, the trial court erred by modifying the permanent periodic alimony obligation to an amount which exceeded the former husband's ability to pay. Second, the trial court erred in requiring the former husband to pay a portion of the former wife's attorney's fees.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The parties were divorced in 2005, and in the final judgment dissolving the marriage, the former husband was ordered to pay the former wife $5,000 per month in permanent alimony. At the time, the former husband was employed by a private label chemical company he had been with for 25 years, earning $175,000 a year. In April 2009, however, the 56-year-old former husband was informed that his contract would not be renewed and that he would receive one year's salary in severance pay. The former husband ultimately found a job earning $66,000 annually.
On July 12, 2010, the former husband filed a petition to modify the final judgment of dissolution, requesting the court to reduce his monthly $5,000 permanent alimony obligation. In support of his petition, the former husband filed a financial affidavit, averring that he had a present monthly net income of $3,825 and present monthly expenses of $4,377. In response, the former wife submitted a financial affidavit, averring that she had a present monthly net income of $6,066 (including the $5,000 monthly alimony payment awarded under the 2005 judgment) and total monthly expenses of $6,501, resulting in a monthly deficit of $435.
On September 27, 2010, the trial court conducted a hearing on the former husband's petition for modification. At the hearing, the former husband testified in regard to his assets and liabilities that his estimated monthly health insurance cost of $600 was a significant issue for him since he had a number of heart problems and
procedures in the past, requiring approximately $250 per month in medication expenses not covered by insurance; that he had a first and second mortgage on his primary residence, a townhome, which he valued at approximately $98,000 as that was what a neighboring townhome had recently sold for; and that he paid $175 in quarterly homeowner's association fees and $1200 annually for homeowner's insurance. With regard to other assets, the former husband testified that he owned a 2005 Avalon purchased in February 2009, before he knew he was losing his job in April; a Ford Expedition and a motorcycle that he owned before the divorce; and a 2005 Triumph boat. In addition, the former husband testified that he had a 401(k) valued at $34,915, consisting of funds he and his employer contributed to his company's 401(k) after the divorce; an IRA valued at $158,000, which he and the former wife split during the divorce; and another 401(k) that he and the former wife split, which is now with his new employer.
With regard to his ability to continue to meet his alimony obligations following the termination of his employment in 2009, the former husband testified that he paid alimony in August and September by taking money from his savings reserve and by borrowing money, and that at his current salary, which amounts to $5500 gross income per month, he is unable to continue to make $5000 monthly alimony payments.
The former wife testified that she is 57 years old, works 30 hours per week as a bookkeeper, and earns $1,033 per month. With regard to her assets, she testified that she bought a " high-rise" home with the money she received from the divorce, and she has an IRA with $245,000 in it, from which she has made withdrawals over a three-year period amounting to $123,000 to pay taxes, to purchase furniture for her condo, and to pay for the move. Regarding her expenses, the former wife testified that she has a $481 per month car payment for a car that she purchased after the divorce, and she needs alimony in order to pay the mortgage on her home. At the hearing she stated, " [M]aybe I lived beyond what I should have."
On October 4, 2010, the trial court issued an order granting the petition to modify the alimony obligation, reducing the former husband's alimony payments from $5,000 per month to $3,500 per month and directing the former husband to pay $3,500 of the former wife's attorney's fees. The former husband filed a motion for rehearing, asserting that the trial court failed to give adequate consideration to the former husband's ability to pay the $3,500 alimony awarded, which amounted to 81% of his net income. The former husband also contested the award of attorney's fees, asserting that the former wife was in a better position to pay attorney's fees.
The trial court issued an amended order granting the petition to modify the alimony award in which the trial court deleted a reference to the former husband's IRA, and inserted a finding that the former husband has savings which he used to pay his August and September alimony payments and has borrowed some money since he lost his job. The court also added findings regarding ...