Alimony Reform in Florida – Yup, It’s Back!
In 2013, Florida legislators worked furiously to pass a bill that would change alimony in Florida as we currently know it. Although the Florida alimony law had been overhauled not too long ago, the 2013 proposed bill was sweeping and arguably draconian in its attempt to strictly limit the availability, length, and amount of alimony awards. For some time alimony payers had been complaining loudly about their miserable lot in life and an organization called Family Law Reform was able to gain the ears of legislators. Some of the 2013 bill’s highlights:
- Short, medium, and long term marriages were redefined in favor of the alimony payer
- There would be a presumption against alimony in a short term marriage
- Permanent alimony would be eliminated
- The length of time that the Court could award alimony would be limited to no more than one-half the length of the marriage in long term marriages
- The bill would create alimony guidelines that strictly limited the percentage of a payer’s income that could be awarded as alimony.
- There would be a presumption that timesharing with children should be 50/50
- The bill would be retroactive and alimony payers could reopen their cases to request a reduction under the terms of the new law
Was the bill fair? Well that depends upon who you ask. Current and future alimony payers loved the bill and championed it. Alimony recipients and homemakers in long term marriages? Not so much. Family lawyers? I suppose it depends on which party you are representing on any given day. Of course, the provision of the bill allowing alimony payers to reopen their cases would result in a financial windfall to family law attorneys. Nevertheless, and despite the potential windfall, many if not most family law attorneys did not think the bill was fair and did not like its ability to significantly gut alimony awards and limit judges’ discretion. The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar was one of the organizations that lobbied tirelessly against the bill.
Despite the Bar’s efforts, the bill passed both the Florida House of Representatives and the Senate with flying colors. It seemed that the bill was going to become law and most of us in essence started advising our clients on their alimony situation using the provisions of the new law. So it was with utter shock that most of us learned that Governor Rick Scott vetoed the bill, stating in his veto letter that the retroactivity provision “tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce” and “could result in unfair, unanticipated results.” I heard the news while participating in a mediation where my client was the breadwinner in a long term marriage and destined to pay permanent alimony under the current bill. Both the mediator and myself had been negotiating as if the pending bill was in fact the law. We were startled by the veto. Unfortunately for my client that day, he missed out on the relief that the new bill would have brought for him. However, some of my other clients were breathing a big sigh of relief. I momentarily thought that the legislature might hastily cut the retroactivity provision out of the bill and shuttle it back to the governor’s desk prior to the end of the legislative session. That did not happen but we all knew that the matter was not dead by any stretch of the imagination.
The legislators who sponsored the 2013 alimony reform bill are busily working on a revised bill to present during the 2014 legislative session. Knowing that this movement is not simply going to go away, the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar has wisely decided to draft its own version of alimony reform legislation or to work with the 2013 bill’s sponsors and supporters to craft a law that strikes a balance in providing relief sought by alimony payers and much needed protection for alimony recipients. There are indications that Governor Scott will sign a bill that does not include the retroactivity provisions of the previous bill. It is uncertain how much the revised bill will differ from the 2013 bill in other respects but there is still a good chance that we will be saying goodbye to Florida’s current alimony law very soon. Stay tuned for updates…