Efforts to revise Florida’s alimony laws may finally be reaching the finish line following the state’s most recent legislative session. Among other changes, CS 1796, introduced by Senator Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, abolishes permanent alimony and replaces it with a formula based on the length of a marriage. After previously passing in the House of Representatives, the Senate gave its approval to the bill on March 11th, 2022, and it was subsequently ordered enrolled and sent to Governor Ron DeSantis for signing into law.
Permanent alimony has been a contentious subject for many years. The changes are not fully supported by the Family Law section of the Florida Bar.
Highlights of the bill regulating alimony awards upon dissolution of marriage, include:
- Revising factors that the court must consider in determining the proper type and amount of alimony
- Requiring the court to begin with a presumption that parents will share time equally
- Requiring the court to make certain written findings in its awards of alimony
- Removing the court’s ability to consider adultery of either spouse in determining the amount of an alimony award
- Requiring the court to consider specified factors when determining an alimony award involving the existence of a supportive relationship between the obligee and another person
- Revising a provision authorizing the modification of rehabilitative alimony upon completion of the rehabilitative plan to include a certain condition
- Creating an avenue for the payor of alimony to seek to lower the amount or end it altogether when someone reaches retirement age.
Historically, Florida Courts have determined alimony on a case-by-case basis by deciding first, if there is a need for alimony and second, if the other party is able to pay it. The court then considers a full list of approximately 20 other relevant factors under section 61.08 of Florida Dissolution of Marriage; Support; & Time-Sharing Statutes to determine the duration of alimony. This includes factors such as the standard-of-living established during the marriage, length of the marriage, age and physical conditions of each party, the financial resources and marital and non-marital assets and liabilities of each party, and contributions of each party to the marriage, including but not limited to services rendered in homemaking, childcare, education, and career building of the other party.
Although adultery is not considered in determining whether a dissolution of marriage should be granted, nor is it listed specifically in the current statute, the court may still consider it along with other evidence when determining the amount and duration of alimony. This provision will be removed under the new proposed legislation.
Alimony is financial support paid to an ex-spouse for a definite or permanent duration to provide for the needs of a former spouse, as they were established during the marriage. Permanent alimony is typically only awarded after a marriage of long duration, currently defined as a minimum of seventeen (17) years. In some cases, permanent alimony can be awarded after a marriage of moderate duration, defined as between (7) and (17) years, based upon consideration of all factors.
Modification or termination of permanent alimony can currently only occur if there is an unexpected, significant and involuntary change in the circumstances of either party, that was not considered at the time the alimony was awarded.
The concept of permanent alimony has issues according to critics like Gruters who has previously stated that, “In Florida, a spouse in a long-term marriage, more than seventeen years, can be ordered to pay permanent lifetime alimony. This lasts until one of the parties dies or until the recipient remarries. Under this scenario, what incentive does a recipient have to ever remarry?”
He also noted the challenges involved with modifications to alimony laws. “Opponents of the bill will tell you that permanent alimony isn’t really permanent. Opponents will tell you that anyone can go to court and seek a modification and reduce it. Well, that is true, but in reality, it rarely occurs. The reverse is also true, and people often seek to modify alimony, upwards.”
He also noted that high litigation costs frequently “prohibits payors from seeking modification, especially those with a loss of income who want to reduce payments” and that, “the goal is to make a better system.”.
One of the most controversial provisions in the new revised statute is the requirement that says child custody issues must begin with a presumption that parents will share time equally, before any of the other twenty or so other factors can be considered. This has killed the bill in past years. This portion is strongly opposed by the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar.
Barbara DeVane, a lobbyist for Florida NOW, a critic of the bill, has pointed out that the threat of child sharing is often used as leverage in alimony negotiations, “to get them to agree to something that is not in their financial economic interests, or the child’s. SB 1796 mandates 50/50 custody of minor children. A 50/50 presumption would be adverse for children in abuse and risky cases … It shifts the burden of proof and persuasion to a parent to prove lack of involvement or unfitness of the other parent, even in extreme cases where there has been abuse or neglect.”.
“Secondly, this bill would be retroactive. It would allow an alimony judgment entered by a court preceding the statute to be modified or eliminated, which alone is unconstitutional”, she noted. This provision is also strongly objected to by the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar.
As the serious concern over the changes to alimony laws associated with CS 1796 indicate, this bill could have far-reaching economic consequences for couples involved in a dissolution of marriage and especially, parents with children. While it is always wise to seek the services of an experienced family law attorney in all matters of divorce, child custody and time-sharing, it could not be any more critical in Florida, than it is today. If you need assistance in any of these areas, contact one of our experienced family lawyers at Parra Harris Law by calling (904) 900-1617 or emailing us at [email protected].