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The Alimony Reform Effort in Florida

Last year, Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have fundamentally changed the laws of alimony in this state. Alimony reform—as the effort to change alimony laws throughout the country is called—is a controversial effort. Citizens, advocacy groups, and lawyers on both sides of the issue have argued passionately for or against many of these changes.

The Sides of Alimony Reform

In 2012, The New York Times featured a lengthy article on Florida's attempts to change its alimony laws. According to the Times, pro-reform activists believe that the laws unfairly benefit contemporary women, who are much better educated than when these laws were originally conceived and whose place in the workforce is different than it once was.

Proponents of reform say that alimony "can strangle the person paying it." They also suggest that large alimony awards serve as disincentives for recipients to enter or re-enter the workforce, seek higher paying jobs, or remarry.

Others are not so sure. Critics of alimony reform say that Florida's proposed changes—like many of those being proposed in states across the country—remove too much discretion from judges. These advocates assert that, even today, it is women who walk away from divorce more vulnerable than men. Especially for those women taking on an increased role in raising children, the prospect of entering or re-entering the workforce can be complicated and difficult. Opponents of this type of reform point to standards of living after long-term marriages: a man's standard of living tends to rise, a woman's tends to fall.

Florida's Alimony Reform Bill

Florida Senate Bill 718, among other modifications, would have completely eliminated permanent alimony. It would also have restricted temporary alimony and redefined "short-term" marriages, a term crucial to alimony calculation. Under the new law, a "short-term" marriage would be a marriage of 11 years or less (instead of the current definition of seven years or less). And these "short-term" marriages would—by default, at least—trigger no alimony payments whatsoever.

The bill would also have made changes to child custody arrangements, creating a default assumption that a 50/50 "timeshare" is best for children.

On May 1, 2013, Governor Scott vetoed the bill; but this debate is far from over. Governor Scott did not appear to disagree with the substance of the changes. Instead, the reported reason he gave for vetoing the bill was because it would have applied retroactively. As written, the law would have reached back in time and made changes to alimony payments of already divorced couples.

"The retroactive adjustment of alimony," Governor Scott wrote in his veto message, "could result in unfair, unanticipated results."

While this bill was not passed, new proposals are on the horizon. As the Miami Herald reported in March, the sponsors of the 2013 law—Representatives Ritch Workman and Kelli Stargel—are already at work on a new draft. And while they will be focusing on tax-related legislation for the remainder of this year, they intend to return to alimony reform in 2015.

If you need help modifying an alimony payment, or have any other family law-related questions, contact the legal professionals at Hager, Schwartz & Ross, P.A.. today to learn how we can help.

Categories: Divorce, Family Law