In April, the Florida Senate voted in favor of Senate Bill 718, better known as the alimony reform bill. This bill would greatly affect the current alimony laws in the state by altering time tables for alimony and ending permanent alimony, as well.
Permanent alimony was instituted years ago when the husband worked and the wife stayed home to raise the children. Today in the majority of marriages, both spouses work and therefore should a divorce occur, both spouses have means of support other than alimony.
Although the bill would ban permanent alimony, it would keep intact three types of alimony: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative and durational alimony.
Unfortunately for supporters of alimony reform, Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoed Senate Bill 718 last month. Governor Scott stated he couldn’t support the bill because it applies retroactively.
“As a husband, father and grandfather, I understand the vital importance of family. I have concluded that I cannot support this legislation because it applies retroactively and thus tampers with settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce,” said Governor Scott.
Family Law Reform, a group that supported the bill, expressed its disappointment with the veto and said the group was “exploring all options.”
Those against passage of the bill heralded Governor Scott’s veto. Carrin Porras, an attorney and Chair of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, issued a statement thanking the governor for his “courage and willingness to stand up for the best interest of Floridians.” He also said the bill would have “discouraged parents from staying at home to raise their children by creating a serious risk that if they stayed home and later got divorce, the chances of receiving support would be very slim.”
On April 4, the Florida Senate voted 29-11 in favor of Senate Bill 718, which is also known as the alimony reform bill.
Bill 718 eliminates permanent alimony, which requires one spouse, usually the male, to pay alimony for the rest of his life. Permanent alimony was instituted years ago when the husband was the money maker of the family, and the wife stayed home to raise the children. In the majority of modern marriages, both spouses work and, thus, in the event of a divorce, have means of support other than alimony.
According to an article on yahoo.com, the bill “replaces permanent alimony with bridge-the gap, rehabilitative, or durational alimony to consistently ensure swift resolution for families.”
With the passing of the bill, the former spouse must prove they have a need for alimony and must also prove the obligor has the ability to pay alimony, as well.
Senate Bill 718 was sponsored by Senator Kelli Stargel because she felt the state needed a fair way to deal with this emotional issue. “This bill creates guidelines for our judges to follow, but maintains judicial discretion,” Senator Stargel said.
A not for profit organization, Family Law Reform, fought for passage of the bill. Alan Frisher, co-founder and president of the organization, said that while the bill is not perfect, it is fair and equitable and updates Florida’s antiquated alimony laws.
House Bill 231, which is companion legislation to Senate Bill 718, will go to the House for a full vote next week.
Florida is one of a handful of states that allows permanent lifetime alimony that does not end at retirement, but only ceases upon death or remarriage of the recipient. This law can have devastating consequences for the former spouse who has to pay out this permanent alimony.
Florida Alimony Reform (FAR) is America’s largest alimony reform group and represents more than 2,000 families across the state that, according to the group, are being crippled by Florida’s alimony laws.
During the 2012 legislative session, FAR proposed an overhaul of Florida’s alimony laws, which in FAR’s opinion, are outdated and antiquated. Alan Frisher, Divorce Financial Analyst and Co-Director of Florida Alimony Reform, stated that the chances for reform had looked encouraging, but then took a turn for the worse, when the Senate sponsor for alimony reform did not adopt the House Bill and also did not present a Senate version of the bill that allowed for any significant change from current law.
Frisher stated that current Florida alimony law is harmful to many families and taxpayers, with ultimate financial benefit not going to the alimony payer, but instead to Family Law attorneys who represent their clients in court. He also added that numerous articles have been published that relate how permanent alimony has adversely affected families for generations.
The revisions to the alimony law that FAR is requesting reflects changing social and demographic patterns, as well as the the toll the economic slump has brought to this country.
Two issues at the center of the alimony debate are the amount of discretion judges throughout the state have in each case, and the fact that Florida is one of only a few states in the entire country that grant permanent alimony.
Supporters of the current alimony law say that current laws are progressive and that, according to Florida Bar Family Section Chairman David Manz, “we’ve changed substantially in two years, and are continuing to do so.”
Panama City Family Attorney Gerard Virga said that “the government isn’t going to do anything that’s going to make them pay more money in social welfare programs, so they have an interest honestly, the state does, in maintaining a form of alimony.”
FAR is already working on another reform bill for the next legislative session and hoping for a better outcome in 2013.