As of this writing on April 28, 2023, the Florida Senate has passed the fourth version of an alimony reform bill (SB 1416) considered in a decade. Govs. Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott vetoed the first three.
Now, eyes are on the Florida House of Representatives, where the bill (HB 1409) passed out of the Judiciary Committee and is making its way through the legislative process before the full House. Many think this version will be the one to finally enact alimony reform, largely because this bill no longer contains two of the most controversial provisions.
No 50-50 parenting-time presumption
A previous provision largely supported by fathers’ rights advocates is absent from the present bill. The provision would have imposed a rebuttable presumption that a 50-50 division of parenting time (total of custody and visitation) was in a child’s best interests. A divorcing litigant could have rebutted the presumption with evidence to the contrary.
Some critics had concern about giving a leg up to parents who present potential harm to their children based on histories of violence, addiction or neglect, for example. This could have been especially detrimental to the welfare of a child if the opposing parent needing to fight the presumption when they had concerns about the other parent did not have a lawyer to guide them through this process and advocate in court against the presumption.
The reforms would no longer apply retroactively
Earlier bills would have applied the reforms retroactively to previous divorces. Strong opposition raised concerns about disturbing previously negotiated marital settlements under prior laws that had allowed permanent alimony, among other things. Gov. DeSantis cited this issue as the main basis for his veto of last year’s bill.
The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar Association also opposed retroactive application of these reforms. Removal of the custody and retroactivity provisions helped gain support from previously opposed family lawyers. It is widely reported, however, that some people, especially older ex-wives who were traditional homemakers, are still concerned about whether past alimony arrangements will be completely protected under this new regime.
Protection of retirement and elimination of permanent alimony
For about a decade, a vocal movement in the Sunshine State has pushed to eliminate permanent alimony and create a path to reduce or end spousal support obligations when a paying ex-spouse retires. Supporters of this change cited situations where elderly obligors (paying ex-spouses) had to work longer instead of retiring to meet this obligation, or even having to continue to make payments after becoming disabled or entering long-term care facilities.
We detailed these efforts in previous posts and will continue to report in this space on the status of the bill. Should it become law, it would take effect July 1, 2023. We would then provide an overview of the changes it would bring to Florida’s alimony scheme.