The issue of “permanent” alimony has been a contentious one in Florida for several years now — and the legal wrangling isn’t likely to abate any time soon.

Many divorcing couples don’t fully understand how alimony works. That can put a dependent spouse in a precarious position. It’s particularly difficult when the dependent spouse is older, has no real job skills or is disabled. Even “permanent” alimony can suddenly dry up.

Why isn’t a permanent order of alimony always reliable?

There are numerous reasons that dependent spouses can’t afford to bank on a permanent order of alimony. First, changing social attitudes have caused an about-face in family courts regarding alimony awards in the first place.

Alimony is being awarded less and less frequently and for smaller amounts and shorter periods. It is largely seen as a relic of a bygone era when husbands worked and wives took care of the children and homes — not an age where each half of a marriage is expected to work.

Second, there’s a big push to end the concept of permanent alimony altogether. Here in Florida, lawmakers hoped than an alimony reform bill, Senate Bill 1596, would overhaul the system and give more breaks to payers — the working spouses who say that paying alimony forever is akin to indentured servitude. While it failed, it isn’t likely to end the efforts aimed at alimony reform for good.

Finally, even if a spouse is ordered to pay permanent alimony to their ex-spouse, that payment can be modified downward if there are substantial changes in the paying spouse’s income and earning capacity. Significant improvements in a dependent spouse’s financial state can also spark a post-judgment modification requests.

What should you know about alimony if you’re divorcing?

Alimony is a complex area of divorce law — especially in Florida. Permanent alimony isn’t always the best option to seek. The state permits a variety of other types of spousal support payments, including rehabilitative alimony, temporary alimony and lump-sum support.

The wisest step you can take is to discuss all of your legal options early and thoroughly before you decide what steps you want to take. That will help you negotiate alimony payments from a position of strength as you move forward.