At least in theory, alimony (also called “spousal maintenance” or “spousal support) is a vital financial tool to compensate a financially disadvantaged spouse who has made contributions during the marriage which indirectly led to an increased earning capacity or career advancement for the other spouse. The original justification for alimony was to acknowledge the contributions of one spouse in the form of parenting of the children, managing the home or working at low pay jobs to finance a spouse’s education to enable that spouse to obtain higher education, employment experience and career advancement. Alimony provided a means to compensate the lower earning spouse for sacrifices and contributions that facilitated the financial advantages that accrued to other spouse.
These traditional notions have come under fire because of demographic changes in the workforce and stories of unfairness to spouses obligated to pay alimony. It was such criticisms that recently motivated the Florida Legislature to send alimony reform legislation (Senate Bill 718) to Governor Rick Scott, which would have radically changed the way of calculating alimony awards and outright ban permanent alimony. Although the governor vetoed the legislation because he expressed concerns over the retroactive component of the legislation and its impact on alimony awards previously issued in Florida divorces and thus create financial uncertainty, the issue will likely be raised again in a new bill as alimony reform is occurring in many states across the U.S.
Horror stories offered in support of the proposed reforms often involve husbands and a growing number of wives ordered to pay alimony amounts that are inconsistent with the amount awarded by other courts under comparable circumstances or to pay for periods longer than the duration of the marriage. Those supporting alimony reform in Florida suggest that the lack of standards in the law for determining the amount and duration of an alimony award has resulted in awards that are inconsistent and unpredictable. The internet is full of websites with stories of spouses ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in alimony over a period of time that far exceeds the length of the marriage.
However, those who support maintaining permanent alimony and opposing alimony reform in Florida contend that economic changes have not mirrored demographic changes that the reform advocates claim to have reduced the need for permanent alimony. A study reported in a book entitled “The Divorce Revolution” indicates that typically women experience a 70 percent decline in their standard of living following divorce whereas men experience a 42 percent rise in their standard of living. This statistical data has been re-affirmed by a recent study from an Australian researcher. Opponents of alimony reform argue that divorce continues to have a disproportionately punitive financial impact on women.
The recent alimony reform bill that was vetoed by Gov. Scott would have made a number of changes supported by those who think the alimony system in Florida is unfair to those obligated to pay:
- The legislation would have made it more difficult to qualify for alimony in short-term marriages.
- The duration of alimony payments would have been capped at half the length of the marriage.
- 50-50 time-sharing of children would have been established as the norm absent extraordinary circumstances.
Given Gov. Scott’s rationale for rejecting the legislation, the prospects that new legislation will be proposed that is not retroactive is highly probable. If you are considering retaining an experienced West Palm Beach divorce law firm and have questions about seeking alimony, our attorneys may be able to help. No matter where you are located, the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of James S. Cunha are just a phone call away.