Florida Tries Again to Reform Alimony Laws

December 16, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Florida lawmakers are set to take another crack at reforming the Sunshine State’s antiquated alimony laws. Read about it here (Herald Tribune, 12/13/15). In 2013, alimony reform passed both houses of the legislature by huge majorities, but, at the behest of women’s groups, Governor Rick Scott vetoed the legislation. Last year, a similar measure failed to make it out of committee due to issues with the legislative calendar.

So it looks like 2016 is the year for alimony reform in Florida. Essentially nothing has changed in the bill from its 2013 version, with a couple of big exceptions. The 2013 bill made its changes to alimony retroactive, the aspect of the measure that Scott said caused him to veto it. There’s no retroactive clause in either this year’s Senate or House bill.

More importantly, the 2013 bill also contained a presumption of 50/50 shared parenting. This time, the House bill drops the shared parenting language, while the Senate bill retains it.

That said, here are the highlights of the proposed legislation:

Eliminate permanent alimony and other types of alimony, including durational and rehabilitative alimony, creating only one type of post-dissolution alimony. Temporary alimony, awarded during a divorce proceeding, would remain.

Establish a formula for setting ranges on alimony, with larger awards going to marriages of 20 years or more. Alimony would not be granted, in most cases, to marriages of less than two years.

Modify or end alimony if the spouse paying the alimony retires or if the spouse receiving the alimony has a significant change in income, defined as an increase of more than 10 percent.

Modify or eliminate alimony if the spouse receiving the alimony enters a “supportive relationship,” defined as a relationship that provides economic support equivalent to a marriage.

Cap alimony and child support payments to no more than 55 percent of the income of the spouse making the payments, with child support being reduced if that cap is exceeded.

In the United States in 2015, alimony, for the most part, makes no sense. There are no longer societal impediments to both spouses’ working and, given that incomes are generally not keeping up with inflation, both spouses should be encouraged to do so. The prospect of alimony, particularly permanent alimony, does the opposite. It encourages one person to not work, be supported by the other spouse, secure in the knowledge that, should the marriage break up, he/she could continue to not work and rely on the support of the ex-spouse.

Clearly, there’s nothing about that scenario that should drive public policy. We value self-reliance. We want workers who are dedicated to their own self-support. And we want adults to take responsibility for their own decisions. Alimony tends to accomplish the opposite of all those legitimate societal values.

As I’ve said before, there are a few, narrow exceptions to what should be the rule of no alimony ever. If spouses are quite old when the marriage breaks down, and one isn’t able to support him/herself, then alimony is appropriate. The same holds true for a spouse who’s disabled and can’t support him/herself.

Beyond that, alimony is simply an anachronism that has no place in contemporary society. Of course the Florida bills don’t do away with alimony, but they would ameliorate some of the worst aspects of current law.

“The 1960s law no longer works in today’s society,” said Larry Rutan of the Florida Family Law Reform group, saying the law “should give equal consideration to both parties.”

“In the past men and women, income providers, have been strapped with carrying the load for both themselves and their exes,” said Rutan, who lives in Treasure Island. “One struggles to live and other has endless income but no work.”

Rutan said the lack of specific guidelines in the current law can lead to years of litigation that financially benefit the lawyers involved in the cases to the detriment of the couples.

Predictably, those opposed to the bills are the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women and other women’s groups. There was once a time when those groups said they supported gender equality, but more and more, when “equality” means women losing rights or power, their tune changes. Nationwide, the overwhelming majority of alimony recipients are women and the payers are men. That, as opposed to any principle of equality, drives NOW’s agenda.

“I’m the face of endless income with no work,” Ann Dwyer of Longwood told a House committee last month.

Dwyer said she and her ex-husband mutually agreed to an arrangement where she stayed at home to raise their children, while he advanced his career. She underscored the difficulty of trying to restart a career after years out of the workplace while facing competition from better-trained, younger workers.

But Dwyer is 70 years old. How long have her kids been out of the nest? Twenty years? And before that, they were teenagers, scarcely the type of people in need of 24-hour-a-day supervision. Did she attempt to retrain when their youngest was, say, 14? Or did she simply rely on alimony to be her support until the day he or she died? She doesn’t say, and neither does the article.

Whatever the facts of Dwyer’s particular case, the idea that one spouse should be supported by the other forever, based solely on the fact that the two agreed that he/she should stay home for a few years to care for the children, is unsupportable. At some point, we need to expect adults to act like adults, take responsibility for their own choices and not depend on others for their well-being.

Dwyer sees no reason why she should bear any responsibility for her and her husband’s decision about childcare. But she sees every reason why he should. For reasons unexplained, she thinks that his bank account should be drained for that very choice, and drained until the day he dies. According to her, perhaps his last act on earth should be to sign his name to yet another check payable to her. They chose, so he should suffer and she shouldn’t. Make sense?

Meanwhile, prospects for passage of the House bill seem bright.

Several significant developments have occurred that could aid the passage of the legislation in 2016. The family law section of The Florida Bar, which opposed the 2013 bill, is now strongly supporting the House bill.

“This is a compromise and a good compromise,” said Philip Wartenberg, speaking on behalf of the 3,500 lawyers in the family-law group. He said the bill will improve alimony cases by providing clearer guidelines for lawyers and judges to follow.

“This bill seeks to prevent the horror stories,” Wartenberg said. “This bill will provide more predictable results in alimony cases.”

It’s early yet, but there’s hope for sanity to prevail in Florida next year.

The House bill passed the Civil Justice subcommittee in a 9-4 vote and it is now pending in the Judiciary Committee. The Senate bills are awaiting their first hearing in the Judiciary Committee.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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