Readers may recall our recent posts on the controversial alimony and parenting-time reform bill that the Florida legislature passed on March 9. The bill sets July 1 as the date it would take effect, if approved. Strangely, as of this writing on June 6, Gov. Ron DeSantis has kept his intentions about approval or veto quiet. The public debate on this bill has been and still is raging among factions in the family law community as well as advocates for children, parents, alimony recipients and alimony payors.
As explained in our most recent blog on this topic, former Gov. Rick Scott, also faced with tremendous public pressure from all sides, vetoed two similar bills during his tenure.
The governor is next in line
Curiously, right now neither The Florida Senate website pages for SB 1796 (linked to in our most recent blog referenced above) nor Westlaw shows any presentation of the bill to the governor as of this writing. The legislative session ended on March 14, almost three months ago.
Strong opinions on both sides
The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar is strongly opposed to the bill and recently published an article about the delay in its presentation to Gov. DeSantis.
According to the article, cases involving alimony or parental time-sharing of children are backing up due to the uncertainty about the legislation. The Section is concerned about the provision that may allow ex-spouses already paying alimony to petition the court to stop or reduce their obligations because the payors would like to retire. This potential retroactivity could reopen marital settlement agreements and divorce decrees that alimony recipients have planned their lives around and that for some could bring serious financial harm if modified.
Legislators and attorneys disagree about whether the provisions would be retroactive, but the specter concerns many. The article quotes general magistrate and Section Chair-elect Philip Wartenberg as saying it is “absolutely retroactive” and that the delay in presenting the bill to the governor has given thousands of Floridians time to let the governor’s office know their diverse and usually strong opinions on the divisive measure.
Why the delay in presentation?
The Florida Constitution requires that when the legislature passes a bill, it “shall be presented to the governor …” The Florida Supreme Court has said that if a bill passes at the very end of a 60-day legislative session – which happened here – the legislature may still perform ministerial or administrative acts to satisfy constitutional requirements – like presenting it to the governor for his review. However, the cases do say that the time period after the session to perform these duties should be reasonable, practicable and prompt.
This implies that the bill cannot be withheld from presentation indefinitely. Crucially important legal issues may arise like what is a reasonable time within which to present the bill? What happens if it is not presented until a date that is close to or misses the July 1 effective date of the bill? And other questions.
We will keep readers up to date on this important matter.