Many in the Sunshine State are holding their collective breath to see whether Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign a hotly debated bill that would end permanent alimony, establish a procedure for retiring alimony payors to seek termination of their obligations and create a presumption that parents should split time sharing of their children 50-50. Former Gov. Rick Scott already vetoed previous bills with these major policy changes under tremendous public pressure from both sides of the debate.
In part 1 of this post, we described the new alimony restrictions that would become law if the governor approves the legislation. Permanent alimony would no longer be an option and three types of alimony would still be available, but under fairly restrictive rules.
The issue with retirement
There has been a growing movement nationally against permanent alimony, which impacts mostly men who were the breadwinners in their marriages. Many object to their having to pay alimony until one of the parties dies, sometimes into old age and potentially preventing them from being able to retire at a reasonable age or at all.
The bill has grown out of this sentiment in that it would allow an alimony obligor 65 years old and having reached full retirement age for Social Security purposes to give up to a year’s notice of intention to retire and stop paying alimony.
The recipient-obligee then would have 20 days to show the court that an exception applies that could keep the alimony obligation going. However, this may be a tall order:
- The obligee must show that lower or no alimony would cause poverty, make them unable to meet their basic needs or violate their marital settlement agreement OR
- The obligee is the in-home, full-time caregiver to the parties’ disabled child OR
- The obligee has a permanently disabling condition and cannot be partially or fully self-supporting.
Then, the court must consider several specific factors in deciding whether to reduce or end alimony. In addition, the paying spouse must show that retirement is reasonable considering four specific factors. The law has many other complex provisions related to retirement.
The issue with retroactivity
One of the more contentious provisions of SB 1796 is that it could allow courts to modify alimony orders and agreements entered into before the effective date of the act, which would be July 1, 2022, if signed. The bill says the “court shall apply this act to any action pending on or after July 1, 2022.”
Many articles in the media report disagreement over what this may mean. Some say it means the new alimony standards could apply to alimony modification requests for divorces already finalized, so long as the original, final order or approved, negotiated settlement agreement allows alimony reconsideration in the future. Many express concern that people negotiated (or judges reasoned) for a final divorce order that balanced all the issues between the parties. Opponents believe that if courts apply the present bill’s new standards to alimony modification requests, it would be unfair because the parties may not have agreed to the initial settlement if they had known the standard might change.
Supporters say those with alimony awards open to revision knew they could change so it is no surprise. If the bill takes effect, it is likely this provision will end up in court for judicial interpretation.
The debate about ending permanent alimony and giving rights to end alimony at retirement
Critics, including the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar Association, are concerned that eliminating permanent alimony would harm elderly divorced people – mostly women – whose marital contributions were to care for children and the home and to support their spouses’ careers.
By nature of this historically traditional marital arrangement, the spouse who stayed home did not enhance their career and likely lost marketable job skills over the years. The concern is that they would be poorly suited to suddenly lose alimony support as they reach retirement age and older, putting them at risk of economic harm as they age.
Supporters emphasize the potential harm to elderly alimony payors of having to continue to work, sell assets or spend down savings in lieu of a normal retirement.
The bill contains many other provisions, including:
- Judges could no longer consider adultery as a factor when crafting alimony awards.
- It would be presumed that the marital standard of living would be lower after divorce for both spouses.
As of this writing on April 2, 2022, there is no news of signing or of veto. We await the governor’s decision with keen interest.