Florida alimony reform under consideration at statehouse — again
Significant changes in alimony law are possible if proposed legislation passes the Florida legislature and is approved by the governor.
A bill that would substantially change Florida’s alimony laws is under consideration as of this March 2015 writing. A push from reformists, similar to movements in some other states that have caused major changes in their spousal support laws, has culminated in the current proposal.
The bill would eliminate the current structure that allows four types of alimony, including permanent.
Very significant is the proposed elimination of permanent alimony in most cases after the end of a marriage in which the paying ex-spouse would owe support payments to the other until one of them dies, the recipient remarries or cohabits in a supportive relationship, or a substantial change in circumstances develops. In its place, awards would almost always be of a set duration according to statutory formulas.
The new law would also allow the paying spouse to ask the court for modification or termination of alimony upon retirement, giving the court specific guidelines that consider the payor’s age and related circumstances.
Supporters believe that alimony awards should be based more on preset formulas and less on judicial discretion to promote uniformity and predictability.
For marriages of two years or less, the law would create a rebuttable presumption of no alimony unless there is “clear and convincing need,” an ability to pay it and to rule otherwise would be “inequitable.”
For marriages of more than two years, the law would require a judge to apply an alimony guideline with a formula considering income, including potential income, and marriage length, to arrive at presumptive alimony amount and duration ranges. The judge is then to consider a list of 15 factors to craft an award within the presumptive ranges, unless he or she finds that the presumptions would be “inappropriate or inequitable.”
Other proposed changes include:
The paying spouse’s combined alimony and child support payments would be capped at 55 percent of net income.
Remarriage of the payor spouse would not be a substantial change in circumstance to support an alimony modification and usually the new spouse’s income is not considered an available asset.
Unreasonably petitioning or opposing modification in court can result in an order to pay the other party’s legal fees and costs.
- A recipient spouse could be in a supporting relationship, the existence of which could eliminate the alimony obligation, even without cohabitation.
A similar bill was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2013 because he was concerned about retroactive application, but the current bill is not retroactive, although opponents say that people have lived in reliance on existing law.
For example, a wife who gave up her career to promote her husband’s and stayed home to raise a family may have made a different decision if she knew the law would change and not allow her to receive permanent alimony in case of divorce.
An article in The Florida Bar News presents the views of both sides of the issue, summarizes the proposed changes and explains the bill’s legislative path.
Although the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar Association supports this bill after long negotiations, many oppose it as potentially harmful to spouses, mostly female, who have been out of the workforce during long marriages.
Floridians on both sides of the issue are watching the legislative process closely. In the meantime, anyone in Florida who faces divorce should consult with an experienced family law attorney for advice and representation. With offices in Orlando and Tampa, the lawyers at Hancock & Associates, P.A., represent divorce clients on many issues.
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