The issue of alimony reform is back on the table in the 2015 session of the Florida Legislature. Alimony reform legislation passed the state legislature in 2013, only to be vetoed by Governor Rick Scott. The reason he gave at the time was his disagreement with the retroactive effect of the bill. However, the current bill does not apply to individuals who are already receiving alimony, so proponents are hopeful that they will have Governor Scott’s approval this time around. The bill addresses some key features of alimony law, and anyone considering a divorce should consult with an attorney if they wish to understand their rights under current law, as well as under the proposed new legislation.
Senate Bill 1248, introduced by Senator Kelli Stargel, and House Bill 943, introduced by Rep. Colleen Burton, have very similar provisions. The proposed legislation includes provisions for:
- establishing a formula similar to the child support formula for determining the amount of support;
- effectively doing away with most cases of permanent alimony;
- allowing the judge to consider the length of the marriage. Alimony would be denied in marriages lasting two years or less, unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances. Marriages lasting twenty years or less would be granted short and lower payments.
- permitting the judge to consider the income difference of spouses;
- permitting the judge to reduce or eliminate payments after retirement;
- allowing a judge to consider the earning capability of a spouse in arriving at the amount of alimony;
- capping the combined alimony and child support payments at 55 percent of the payer’s net income;
- disallowing a judge from considering a new spouse’s income and assets in order to increase the amount of alimony;
- preventing the judge from requiring an increase in payments simply because the payer’s salary increased.
The Senate bill has an additional proposal that spouses be awarded equal time-sharing with children unless the court order includes written findings of fact that such an arrangement would not be in the child’s best interests.
The bills are in the first draft stages. S.B 1248 was filed on February 24 and referred to the Appropriations Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice on March 2. On March 3, it was introduced in the Senate. H.B. 943 was filed on February 23 and then referred to the Civil Justice Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee on March 3. Both bills will probably undergo amendments in various committees before being voted on by the entire legislature. If it passes the legislature, the bill will then be sent to the governor for signing.
Some advocacy groups, such as Family Law Reform, view the proposed legislation as an improvement over the current system in that it will provide more predictability and fairness in the determination of alimony awards. Payers of alimony will not have to fear of being required to pay more money to an ex-spouse when they earn a higher salary. Other groups, such as First Wives First, were opposed to the previous bill and now oppose the current bill even more strongly. They feel it is punitive to middle-aged and senior women and unfairly prefers the wealthy breadwinner.
Clearly, the legislative landscape for those considering divorce may be changing in the near future. James S. Cunha is a seasoned and respected West Palm Beach Divorce Attorney who represents family law clients in Palm Beach County — Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, Palm Beach Gardens, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Boca Raton, and Jupiter — as well as in Okeechobee, St. Lucie, Hendry, Broward, Martin, and Miami-Dade Counties. If you have a question about alimony or divorce law, please call for a consultation today at 561-429-3924.