Permanent alimony is one step closer to being a thing of the past in Florida after the Senate approved SB 718 by a 29-11 vote on April 4th. Christine Jordan Sexton reports for the Orlando Business Journal.
The measure, which places guidelines for alimony based on the length of marriages and changes the definition of short-term, moderate-term and long-term marriages, could be taken up by the House as early as this week.
“Back in the days of Father Knows Best was this understanding that one spouse stayed home and one spouse worked,” Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland and sponsor of the bill told reporters after the vote. “Nowadays you see kinds of combinations. It’s just a different world. We need to kind of treat alimony with that same changing with the times.”
Before passing the bill, the Senate tagged on a handful of amendments that would increase by as much as 5 percent the monthly alimony a spouse is entitled to and allow a judge to modify an alimony agreement if the obligee can show by a preponderance of the evidence the amount was insufficient.
The initial bill would have placed the burden of proof at clear and convincing, which was a burden some senators felt uncomfortable with.
“We realized we had to make some compromises in order to get more senators to vote for the bill,” said Alan Frisher, president of the group called Family Law Reform, formerly known as Florida Alimony Reform.
Despite the compromises Frisher said the bill still maintains it initial integrity. “It is far better than current law,” said Frisher, who said the bill still contains most of what his group advocated.
But the changes weren’t enough to convince all senators. Several senators — including women senators — said they were worried about how it would affect women, especially those with children.
“I believe this bill has some really bad unintended consequences,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.
Stargel defended the changes by pointing out it would not change the current structure of child support payments.
While the bill bans permanent alimony, it does keep intact the remaining three types of alimony: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative and durational. It also makes clear that they can be combined only when the goal is to achieve rehabilitation.
The bill places in statute a presumption that equal time sharing with a minor child by both parents is presumed to be in the best interest of the child unless the court finds a parent is unfit. There are exceptions: if the court finds that the safety, well-being and health of the child would be endangered; clear and convincing evidence of extenuating circumstances which justify a departure; a parent is incarcerated; or distance between parental households is too great.
The Senate tagged on amendments that bill changes the definitions of short-term, midterm and long-term marriages by increasing the lengths of time married to less than 11 years, 11-19 years, and 20 or more years, respectively.
The legislation also places into law a rebuttable presumption against awarding alimony for a short-term marriage but does allow for exceptions. If the court finds need the court shall determine a monthly award of alimony which may not exceed 25 percent of the obligor’s gross monthly income.
There is no presumption in favor for either party in midterm marriages, alimony would be no greater than 35 percent of the obligor’s monthly income.
For long-term marriages, there is a rebuttable presumption in favor of awarding alimony. To overcome the assumption, a party must show clear and convincing evidence there is no need for alimony. Alimony may not exceed 38 percent of the obligor’s monthly income.
The provision of the bill that perhaps is most controversial among opponents is a retroactive application of divorce agreements entered into before July 2013. Under the bill alimony agreements in short and long mid term marriages can be altered if the years of a spouse has received alimony for longer than 50 percent of the duration of the marriage. For long-term marriages, settlement agreements could be re-opened only if there was misrepresentation.
“It causes me a great deal of concern. It allows for the person to [go] back and change a contract,” said Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando. “When people enter into a marriage, they entered into a situation where they are investing in each other.
Perhaps most importantly for Frisher and alimony reform advocates like him is the rebuttable presumption in law that when determining alimony “both parties will have a lower standard of living after the dissolution of marriage than the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage.”
Current law allows a judge to take into consideration “the standard of living established during the marriage” when determining alimony.
“I can’t begin to tell you how huge that is,” Frisher said. “Judges won’t have to try to maintain a standard of living for one party at the expense of the other.”
If you have questions regarding alimony or the alimony reform bill please contact the Men’s Divorce Law Firm today at 407.896.2677. Managing Attorney Jeffrey Feulner is an experienced advocate for the male point of view in all aspects of family law including divorce, alimony, child custody, and fathers’ rights issues, so call today to schedule your consultation.