The judicial decision as to whether to order the payment of alimony in a divorce is often a contentious one. It raises concerns of fairness for both the payor and the payee, accusations of lifelong financial enslavement to a former spouse, as well as questions as to the nature and consequence of marriage in a society that is at least trying to foster a culture of financial equality between the sexes. In Florida, where an estimated 141,000 people marry every year, and 80,000 get divorced, the topic is bound to invite impassioned opinions on both sides. The introduction of alimony reform bills in both houses of the Florida legislature in 2015 has succeeded in creating lively debate on the issue.
Current Status of Alimony Reform Bills
H.B. 943 passed the Civil Justice Subcomittee on March 17 and the House Judiciary Committee on April 2. To summarize its main provisions, short term marriages (those lasting less than 20 years) would bind a payer of alimony for a period lasting only 25% of the length of the marriage. Long-term marriages lasting 20 years or longer could require alimony payments for up to 75% of the term of the marriage. There would be no provision for permanent alimony. Formulas such as those used in computing child support would be used to determine alimony amounts, taking into consideration the length of the marriage and combined earnings of the couple. The bill is heading for a floor vote in the House.
The Senate version, S.B. 1248, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 24 and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice on April 8. Its provisions are similar to the House version. Debate in the Senate drew testimony from stay-at-home mothers who oppose the reform, stating that its limitations on the term and amount of alimony do not adequately address the long-term needs of families. In addition, while the bills’ supporters have stated repeatedly that it is not retroactive, one divorced mother countered that in fact it could alter payments once a payer of alimony retires. Supporters recounted horror stories of paying alimony for time periods exceeding the length of the marriage, with resulting financial ruin. Both supporters and detractors have questioned the inclusion of a 50-50 child-sharing presumption in the Senate version of the alimony bill. The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar is working on a possible compromise for this language. The Senate version of the bill will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Florida Bar Family Law Section and Family Law Reform, an alimony payer advocacy group, both support the new legislation. The National Organization for Women opposes the new version, as it did the one vetoed by Governor Scott in 2013. Proponents of reform cite the fact that Florida is one of the few states that allow alimony for life, even through retirement, until the death or remarriage of the payee spouse. Opponents feel it imposes a one-size-fits-all scenario without focusing on what is best for children and families.
Alimony as we have known it for years in Florida may be about to undergo substantial change. If you are currently paying or receiving alimony, or are considering divorce, then it is advisable that you find out your rights and responsibilities under the current legal regime. It is also important to understand how your legal situation may change under the new law. James S. Cunha is a highly skilled Florida Divorce Attorney in West Palm Beach who has achieved a rating of 10 out of 10 (“Superb”) on Avvo.com, an online attorney rating site. Call the Law Offices of James S. Cunha, P.A. today at 561-429-3924 to schedule a 1 hour consultation.