The Florida state legislature reconvened on January 11. And while there are high-profile issues the state House and Senate must deal with–from the COVID-19 pandemic to finalizing new legislative maps based on the 2020 census--it wouldn’t be a Florida legislative session if alimony reform weren’t on the agenda.
Proposed changes to the Florida alimony rules have been a hot topic in the legislature for several years now. Bills have been passed, but then vetoed by the governor. For supporters, the search for alimony reform has turned into a constant quest. For detractors, it’s the subject that just won’t go away.
The 2022 Florida legislative session will be no different. Senator Joe Gruters, with co-sponsorship from Representatives Ana Maria Rodriguez and Ed Hooper, have already introduced legislation that will deal with alimony reform. The major components of Senate Bill 1796 are fundamentally the same as what was in previous reform efforts.
Ending Permanent Alimony in Florida
A provision to eliminate permanent alimony as an option for judges in divorce cases continues to be the featured part of the legislative effort. To best understand the impact if this proposal becomes law, let’s consider it in the context of all types of Florida alimony…
Temporary Alimony: This only lasts as long as the divorce proceedings. When a marriage ends, it’s not uncommon for the spouses to be in different financial situations based on how the marriage functioned. A spouse who stayed at home with children or in some other way sacrificed a career for the marriage will be financially disadvantaged. Temporary alimony helps pay their legal fees and basic living expenses while the divorce is being litigated.
Bridge the Gap Alimony: Similar to temporary alimony, but extending beyond the period of the divorce proceedings, this form of support is meant–as the name suggests–to help provide support while the spouse establishes a new way of life. These payments can go up to two years.
Rehabilitative Alimony: This type of spousal support lasts a little longer and covers the costs needed to allow the financially disadvantaged spouse to get back on their feet. An example might be vocational training. This is similar in intent and practice to Bridge the Gap Alimony. The key difference is that Rehabilitative Alimony is tied to a purpose rather than a timeframe.
Durational Alimony: This simply sets alimony for a set period (a duration). It is often tied to the length of the marriage, the needs of the disadvantaged spouse and the resources available to the spouse who has more disposable income. The payments will end on a certain date, determined at the time of the divorce.
This brings us to Permanent Alimony. This means simply that spousal support payments are made until the financially disadvantaged spouse passes away or remarries.
Senate Bill 1796 aims to abolish permanent alimony unless the spouses agree to it in a private settlement. If the matter comes before a judge, the new legislation will require the judge to instead look at some type of durational alimony plan.
What Advocates & Critics Say
Advocates of the bill believe that permanent alimony is an unfair burden to people, one that forces them to work longer into what might otherwise be their retirement years to make the payments. They argue that it serves as a disincentive for the spouse receiving the payments to either re-enter the workforce or seek professional advancement as they otherwise might. Advocates further contend that it serves as an incentive for the spouse receiving the payments to turn away from remarriage opportunities they might otherwise accept.
Critics argue that permanent alimony is a fair and equitable system for spouses who may have spent their married life at home raising children. What happens to the spouse who raised several kids and then saw their marriage end after all the children left the nest? This is particularly pertinent in cases where the financially advantaged spouse earned a high income. The stay-at-home spouse cannot realistically hope to achieve anything resembling the same standard of living they once enjoyed, or what their ex-spouse may enjoy. At the very least, critics believe that permanent alimony at least needs to continue as an option under Florida law.
The Child Custody Provision
As if the debate over alimony weren’t heated enough, Senate Bill 1796 follows in the footsteps of other recent reform efforts in proposing an amendment to laws regarding child custody. The proposal would require that judges deciding on custody start with the premise that the child’s best interests are served by spending 50 percent of their time with each parent.
Supporters say this merely puts into writing what judges already do in practice. They also point out that the proposal does not require a 50/50 split. It merely puts in place a rebuttable presumption. The presumption being that 50/50 is best, and it’s up to the parent who wants more than that to prove why.
Critics say this will place a burden on parents who might be divorcing from a spouse over matters such as drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence or some other factor that has a direct impact on their ability to raise children. They argue that the current system–where judges can consider a wide range of factors and use their own discretion–is more likely to produce good outcomes than the rebuttable presumption.
We’ve Only Just Begun
The three officials sponsoring the bill are all Republicans. In the past, the proposal has not attracted much in the way of Democratic support. While the GOP holds a majority in both chambers, there has not been sufficient consensus within the party to pass alimony reform on their own. Indeed, it was the previous Republican Governor, Rick Scott, now in the U.S. Senate, who vetoed previous reform plans.
That means old-fashioned political negotiation is going to be the order of the day in Tallahassee. Compromise proposals will be floated. The original bill was marked up with edits just two days after introduction and we don’t doubt more changes will take place if this bill is to secure passage in both houses and the signature of the current governor, Ron DeSantis.
Whatever the future of alimony is in Florida, we can tell you this–The Law Offices of Jason K.S. Porter, P.A will be on top of any changes made, particularly in terms of what they mean for our clients. Our talented legal team has been practicing family law for a long time. We’ve seen changes before, we’ll probably see them again, and we work hard to always adjust our approach to new realities. If you’re facing a divorce and fear for your financial future, don’t hesitate to call us today at (904) 701-0591 or contact us online to set up a Zoom consultation.