The state legislature is – again – hotly contesting whether Florida is ready to reform its current spousal support system. The state House and Senate each have a version of the bill before them, but the legislation has not made it to either floor for debate as of this Jan. 28, 2022, writing.
Should it pass, it would become effective on July 1, 2022.
The permanent alimony issue
The main – and most debated – alimony provision in this reform legislation is that it would put an end to traditional, lifetime spousal support awards. Most states have already done this – Florida is only one of a handful of remaining jurisdictions still allowing it.
An exception would be if the divorcing parties agreed to it in a binding settlement agreement.
Origins of the debate
The national alimony reform movement arose out of situations in which husbands (usually not wives in that demographic in which women did not yet work regularly outside the home) had been ordered in divorce to pay permanent alimony, usually until either party died or the recipient remarried or cohabitated.
Sensational stories circulated of elderly, ill and sometimes disabled husbands who were long retired, but continuing to transfer alimony payments to people they divorced years ago. The payors often could not work anymore, were receiving Social Security or were having to continue to work well into their later years to make the payments, depriving them of real retirement.
Opposition to the movement
Opponents may point out that many paying ex-spouses in those circumstances could have asked the court for alimony modification based on significant life changes, but that a lifetime award should still be available in extreme situations like recipient disability.
People who support a state law option that a judge can order lifetime alimony are sometimes women’s advocates (although stay-at-home fathers have also spoken up). They assert that recipient wives who were homemakers, often raising children as well as allowing their husbands to get ahead in their careers, could be cut off from spousal support when their ex-husbands retire, for example. Such older woman may still need support to maintain their lifestyles or even to meet basic needs.
Turning of the tide
Many are coming to think of alimony as a way to support ex-spouses until they can rehabilitate their vocational and professional skills to become self-supporting. Indeed, according to a new article in Capitol News Service, the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar now supports the move away from permanent alimony after several years of opposition.
The fly in the ointment
As was widely reported even in national news, former Gov. Rick Scott previously vetoed legislation to end lifetime alimony because the bill had a child custody provision that would have required a judge to presume that a 50-50 split in parenting time is in the children’s best interest. Although the presumption could be rebutted by evidence against it in a given family, it had – and still has – significant opposition.
In the current reform legislation, the House version contains the presumption, but the Senate does not, according to the versions on The Florida Senate website (you can change between the two versions using the Related Bills tab) as of this writing. Whether it is included remains to be seen after debate and negotiation.
There are several other important alimony changes in the proposed bill so stay tuned for more about it.