What’s Going on with Alimony Reform in Florida?

By: David A. Riggs

David RiggsOne of the hot topics when Florida divorce lawyers get together is the Florida alimony statute and whether it will ever be reformed and, if so, what will that reform look like. As stated in other posts on this website, in 2013, the Florida legislature, with strong bipartisan support, passed an alimony reform bill that was opposed by the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar. The 2013 Alimony Reform Law, if it had been enacted into law, would have ended permanent alimony, capped alimony awards based upon a person’s income and the length of the marriage, and made it easier for an ex-spouse to terminate or lower alimony payments upon retirement.

Despite strong bipartisan support in both houses of the Florida Legislature, when the Alimony Reform Bill was presented to the Governor of Florida for his signature, surprising almost everyone, he vetoed it. The Governor vetoed it, not because he opposed the reform aspects of the Bill, but because the Bill included a retroactivity component which the Governor said could adversely impact the economic expectations of many Floridians who had experienced divorce and who would be subject to having their alimony reduced or, possibly, eliminated because of the mere enactment of the Alimony Reform Bill into law.

There was no legislative action in the Florida Legislature in 2014. However, there was plenty of activity behind the scenes, with negotiations related to alimony reform on-going between and among the Florida Alimony Reform group, known as Family Law Reform, Inc., the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, and the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

The results of all of this behind the scenes activity was the 2015 Florida Alimony Reform Bill. Actually, there were two versions of the 2015 Florida Alimony Reform Bill, one in the Florida House of Representatives and one in the Florida Senate. With one critical exception, to be discussed later in this post, the two alimony bills were identical. Therefore, with that one critical exception, the 2015 Florida Alimony Bill will be treated as if there were only one such bill in the 2015 Florida Legislature.

The 2015 Alimony Reform Bill had a very different approach from the 2013 Alimony Reform Bill. The concept behind both the 2013 Alimony Reform Bill and the 2015 Alimony Reform Bill was that “permanent” alimony would be abolished, at least, in word if not in fact. However, in the 2015 Alimony Bill, as opposed to the 2013 Alimony Bill, references to any particular form alimony were eliminated. The 2015 Alimony Bill referenced only “alimony”, without labels.

The 2015 Bill, rather than reducing eligibility for alimony awards, created a presumption in favor of alimony for any marriage of more than two years in duration. The duration and amounts of alimony would, however, have been tied to schedules based upon the length of the marriage and the incomes of the about-to-be former spouses.

The critical difference between the Florida House version of the 2015 Alimony Bill and the Florida Senate version of the 2015 Alimony Bill was that the Florida Senate version included a topic which had absolutely nothing to do with alimony. The Senate version would have established a presumption that approximately equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents was in the best interest of the minor child.

The Florida House then passed its version of the 2015 Alimony Bill, which instead of including a 50-50 time-sharing provision, stated that there was no presumption in favor of either parent and no presumption in favor of any particular time-sharing schedule. The House then sent its version of the Alimony Bill to the Florida Senate and promptly adjourned for the year.

The 2015 Alimony Bill died in the Florida Senate amidst a great deal of political rancor. The end result was that, as in 2013 (due to the Governor’s veto), and as in 2014 (due to lack of legislative action), in 2015, again, there were no legislative changes to alimony in Florida.

This brings us to the obvious question of what does the future hold for the concept of alimony reform in Florida. The first thing is that efforts for alimony reform in Florida are not likely to die. There is a serious question whether this topic will be back before the Florida Legislature in 2016, an election year, or whether Florida will have to wait until 2017 to learn what the 2017 legislative session brings. This would be consistent with the timing of efforts in 2013 and 2015.

Assuming that alimony reform does, eventually, come back before the Florida Legislation, it may be logical to assume, given the 2015 agreement and support by the various groups who have been active in this effort, that the next effort at alimony reform in Florida may look a lot like the 2015 Alimony Reform Bill, absent the 50-50 time-sharing provision. One problem, if this were to occur, is that there were many compromises in the 2015 Alimony Bill which, from the perspective of some Florida Family Law lawyers, might make potential alimony cases more difficult to settle.

There are two obvious examples of where conflict could, potentially, have been made worse by the 2015 Alimony Bill. These are in the duration of the alimony obligation and in the amount of alimony, which, under the 2015 Alimony Bill, were based upon “ranges” for the duration and the amount of the alimony obligation.

It has been suggested that the ranges of the duration of alimony could have made cases very difficult to settle. For example, the “low end” of the range of alimony duration was 25% of the length of the marriage and the “high end” of the range of alimony duration was 75% of the length of the marriage. Thus, in every alimony case (meaning every divorce case where the duration of the marriage was over two years), the “high end” of the range of alimony duration was three times the length of the “low end” of the range of alimony duration. That is a huge difference in the possible duration of alimony which, it has been argued, might tend to cause spouses to prefer to have the Judge decide the duration of the alimony rather than concede to the duration of alimony proposed by the other spouse.

The 2015 Alimony Bill also included a complicated formula for establishing the ranges for the amount of alimony, with one formula to establish the “low end” of the range of the alimony payment obligation and a slightly different formula to establish the “high end” of the range of the alimony payment obligation. These formulae were based upon the duration of the marriage, the difference between the monthly gross incomes of the spouses, and a fractional factor depending on whether the “low end” of the range was being calculated or whether the “high end” of the range was being calculated.

Based upon these formulae, the “high end” of the range of the alimony amount worked out to be one-third higher than the “low end” of the range of the alimony amount. Again, this substantial difference between the “high end” and the “low end” of the range of the alimony amount caused some practitioners to consider that it might be difficult to settle cases with such large spreads in the amount of potential alimony. And, to some practitioners, it all seemed to have a sense of arbitrariness to it.

There are other voices starting to be heard on the issue of alimony reform in Florida. For example, there has been a suggestion that, because of the absence of economic studies on the sociological and entitlement effect of the 2015 Alimony Reform Bill, there should be a Gubernatorial Commission appointed to study the impact of alimony reform before further alimony reform is undertaken.

There are beginning to be rumblings that, because the 2015 Alimony Reform Bill was the product of negotiations between competing groups of alimony payors and Florida Family Law Lawyers, and did not involve significant input from alimony recipients, the “reform” aspect of the 2015 Alimony Bill would have fallen most heavily on alimony recipients who continue to be, largely, women who are principally responsible for raising children.

Will there be another effort made to “reform” alimony? Will any of this be taken into account if alimony reform is reconsidered in the future? And, if alimony reform is, in fact, reconsidered, in which year will that occur? Stay tuned.

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By |2017-03-13T13:31:06-05:00August 11th, 2015|Blog, Marital & Family Law|