It has been almost two months since we wrote a series of posts about monumental and controversial legislation that had passed in both the state House and Senate by March 9. Floridians concerned about how alimony and parental time-sharing would change going forward are on pins and needles waiting to see whether Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign or veto it.
As of this writing on May 27, 2022, SB 1796 is still awaiting his decision and news is scant about his intentions. It would take effect on July 1, which is fast approaching. The media is reporting that it has not officially been sent to him, but he is next and last in line on this decision.
Vocal advocates on both sides of the issues have spoken out regularly. Under pressure, former Gov. Rick Scott vetoed similar bills twice. Let’s look again at the most controversial provisions.
Time-sharing 50-50 presumption
The law would force the judge in a divorce or other custody proceeding to start from a presumption that splitting child access equally between the parents would be in the child’s best interest. This would put the onus on the parents if they disagree with this to submit evidence that it would not be best for the child’s welfare. This may be especially tough for a parent without the means to retain an attorney – and could harm the child if all the relevant evidence does not get to the court.
Many raise the point that there may be a history of abuse, neglect, violence, criminal behavior, or mental health or substance abuse issues in the family and that in these cases the presumption might be harmful to children. An opinion piece in the Tallahassee Democrat from a social investigator in these cases raises alarm that judges should not start with an unproven presumption when the unique needs of the children should be paramount.
Many supporters of this bill are fathers’ rights advocates who believe that mothers have always had the advantage of being the favored parent in issues of time-sharing and that this would help to level the playing field.
If the bill passes, parents could still negotiate terms in a parenting plan different than the presumptive equal split in time-sharing.
Alimony: Retroactivity, permanence and retirement, oh my!
Overall, the bill reflects a shift in perspective away from giving long-term financial support to a recipient spouse who was a stay-at-home parent or unable to work for other reasons during the marriage. Instead, the law would largely expect alimony recipients to rehabilitate their vocational or professional skills and become self-supporting.
The main controversial provisions concerning alimony:
- Permanent alimony would no longer be an option.
- The paying parent would have rights at retirement that could lower payment amounts or end them altogether.
- A judge could no longer consider weigh adultery as a relevant factor in the alimony decision.
- The marital standard of living would be presumed lower after divorce for each new household.
- People already divorced may face risk of having their alimony arrangement relitigated under the new law if an alimony modification request comes before the court. Many attorneys fiercely oppose this retroactive application because people (and judges) might have made different decisions if they had known of this future and potentially detrimental change.
The law would have some exceptions for permanently disabled alimony recipients, those who care full-time for a child of the previous couple with severe and permanent disabilities or those who would become impoverished without alimony.
Supporters of the changes point to extreme cases of paying ex-spouses still having this obligation into advanced age or disability or being prevented from retiring.
The clock is ticking, and we will keep readers in the loop.