Florida Alimony Reform
* November 23rd, 2014 – Now that Governor Scott has retained his office, the possibility of some sort of alimony legislation has significantly increased. Look for new, proposed legislation sometime after the new year. Chances are high the proposed legislation will be a bit less ambitious and will contain relatively minor changes. But any change will present opportunities and challenges for both sides of alimony cases.
One personal observation on claims being made ….
Many opinionated speakers claim the system is corrupt, with attorneys and judges “pulling strings behind the scenes” for the purpose of raking in large amounts of money. I do not believe this is true. With the exception of the occasional bad examples of human traits, the legal system tends to do a pretty good job. There will always be attorneys, and there will always be judges. And attorneys will not stop trying to bring advantage to their clients. That is an integral part of a free country with an independent judicial system. Attorneys are not profiteers – they are simply doing the job entrusted to them by clients and the legal system. We have a large group of family law attorneys and at any given time we are fighting for various clients with many different types of goals. No matter what new alimony legislation brings us – will will endeavor to use those changes to the advantage of our own clients.
Attorney Howard Iken
* July 1, 2014 – No new news to date. It is thought the fate of alimony reform will rest on the winner of the 2014 Florida race for governor. There is doubt that Charlie Crist would consider signing an alimony reform bill – but there is no definite comment on the matter.
* May 3rd, 2014 – The legislative session in Florida is now over and there has not been any attempt to revive the bill for this year. It is official, alimony reform is dead until 2015.
* April 11th, 2014 – There is no visible legislative work being done on the alimony reform issue. A movie targeting the subject is circulating in various theaters in the country – Divorce Corp , described as “A shocking exposé of the inner workings of the $50 billion a year family law industry.”
* March 16th, 2014 – The sponsors of alimony reform vow to revive the bill in the 2015 legislative session. They believe Governor Scott would sign the bill if presented. A key takeaway is that any successful alimony legislation would strictly be dependent on Scott winning his reelection campaign. It is believe that Charlie Crist would decline to sign this proposed legislation.
* February 23rd, 2014 – The legislative sponsors of last year’s alimony bill have decided not to introduce a new bill for this year. For 2014, a new alimony law is a complete non-starter.
There are still many different mechanisms under current Florida alimony law that allow modification. These mechanisms allow petitions to raise alimony, decrease alimony, or terminate alimony. Changes in income, cohabitation, retirement, and remarriage are some of the more common options. If you were waiting on the results of attempted alimony legislation, it is time to come in for a free consultation.
* January 28th, 2014 – Details of the 2014 Alimony Reform Bill are starting to emerge. Representative Ritch Workman, one of the originators of last year’s bill has lowered the sights a bit, in an attempt to garner approval from Governor Scott. The elimination of permanent alimony will be dropped from the bill. The proposed alimony law will contain a variety of smaller fixes that would have less opposition. One fix planned is to include a presumption that “standard of living will decrease after divorce.” The legal effect of this hard-wired presumption would be to make it more difficult for judges to award alimony in certain cases. It would also have the effect of reducing the amount of alimony awards. Another possible fix would be to make it easier to reduce/terminate alimony upon retirement. As soon as the first bill is filed we will update the below chart.
* January 18th, 2014 – The consensus of many alimony attorneys is that 2014 will bring a similar new alimony law but with a bit of tinkering to make it more likely that Governor Scott will sign the bill. The one change we will likely see is the elimination of the retroactive effect of the law. In other words, unlike the 2013 proposed alimony law – the 2014 proposed alimony law will not affect any prior divorce orders. It will only affect future orders that are put into place after the new alimony law takes effect.
If you are in a current case and expect to pay alimony, your best bet is to delay your trial. If you are in a current case and expect to receive alimony, you may want to accelerate events.
We do offer second opinions for on-going cases. If you would benefit from a confidential second-look at your case, please arrange an appointment or telephone consult with Attorney Howard Iken
The 2013 Florida Alimony Reform Law was vetoed by Governor Scott.
Here is a quick overview of the new law as it was proposed in the 2013 bill.
Child Custody (Add on to alimony law)
Mandated starting point of 50/50 parenting time for child custody
No starting presumption for parenting percentage
Definition of a Long Term marriage
20 years or more, measured from the date of marriage to the date of filing the petition for divorce.
17 years or more, measured in the same way
Definition of a mid-term marriage
More than 11 years, but less than 20 years
More than 7 years, but less than 17 years
Definition of a Short-term marriage
Less than 11 years
Less than 7 years
Why these definitions matter: Definitions such as this determine initially whether alimony will be considered, the type of alimony, the length of alimony, and the amount considered.
No permanent alimony. It is completely eliminated as a category
Permanent alimony, also called permanent periodic alimony. This is the type of alimony that can last a lifetime. It is almost always modifiable. This is the most common form granted in long term marriages
Priority of Alimony Types to be Ordered
Priority of alimony in order: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, and any other form
No priority rules are in place
The types of alimony that will be remaining: Bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational. These types are fixed term or short term and are given for a specific purpose. Bridge-the-gap is normally the shortest term. Rehabilitative is next and must be for a specific plan that restores the income-earning ability of the other spouse. Durational is potentially the longest term form of alimony
Court’s Justification for Decisions
There are stronger requirements for written reasoning on type of alimony, length, and the amount of alimony
There are requirements but not as strong and not as specific
Court shall first make a written determination that the other party has the ability to pay
Determination of need is the first consideration
The new 2013 alimony law build’s in new rules that mainly protect spouse’s that may be ordered to pay alimony. The new rule requiring an evaluation on “ability to pay” is a completely new approach and ensures no one will be ordered to pay an amount beyond their ability.
Courts were always required to detail reasons for their decisions, in writing, within the text of the final judgment. However, many judgments lacked those required reasons. The new 2013 law strengthens the need for written justification and will have the effect of forcing courts to make a more thoughtful decision that is based on actual facts.
Marital Standard of Living
A court cannot consider the standard of living during the marriage as a way to determine the need for alimony. And the starting point of consideration is that both parties will have a lower standard of living after the marriage
The standard of living is frequently used as a desired living standard for the future – and provides justification for setting a given amount of alimony
Live Insurance to Guarantee Future Alimony Payments
Life insurance to secure alimony can only be granted upon a showing of special circumstances (reasoning above and beyond normal, everyday situations). The availability, cost, and financial impact of purchasing life insurance must be considered in the overall decision. The amount of life insurance is modifiable downward if alimony is reduced
The payer of alimony is routinely ordered to arrange for life insurance. The courts that order life insurance frequently ignore the availability and cost of the insurance. There is no set mechanism to later reduce the amount of life insurance if the underlying alimony payment is reduced
Supportive relationships – Cohabitation – person receiving alimony
A Court SHALL reduce or terminate alimony upon a showing of cohabitation by the person receiving alimony
The Court MAY reduce alimony upon showing of cohabitation
Supportive relationships – Cohabitation – person paying alimony
Cohabitation may not be used as a reason to increase someone’s alimony obligation
Any source of income, even from a significant other may trigger a modification
Short term marriages – under 11 years
The court can award durational alimony for a period but for now longer than 50 % of the marriage length and must not exceed 25 % of the payer’s gross income
Durational alimony can be for the amount of years of the marriage. There is no cap
Mid-term marriage – 11 – 20 years
Alimony is capped at 35 % of payer’s gross income
There is no cap
Long-term marriage – 20 years and over
Alimony is capped at 38% of payer’s gross income
There is no cap
Income from outside the marriage
Income from outside the marriage, that was not relied upon to support the marriage cannot be considered in an alimony decision
All sources of income or resources may be considered
Income and Assets of new spouse
Income and assets of a new spouse cannot be considered in an alimony modification
Income and assets of a later spouse may be considered in any modification
Unemployment of Either Party – Imputation of Income – Completely new standards
If a spouse has been unemployed less than 1 year, the court will impute (consider them to be earning) 90 percent of their prior income
If a spouse has been unemployed for 1-2 years, the court will impute (consider them to be earning) 80 percent of their prior income
If a spouse has been unemployed for 2-3 years, the court will impute (consider them to be earning) 70 percent of their prior income
If a spouse has been unemployed for 3-4 years , the court will impute (consider them to be earning) 60 percent of their prior income
If a spouse has been unemployed for 4-5 years , the court will impute (consider them to be earning) 50 percent of their prior income
If a spouse has been unemployed for more than 5 years. the court will impute (consider them to be earning) 40 percent of their prior income or minimum wage, whichever is more.
To defeat imputation of income, must be disabled by standards of the Social Security Administration
Later Income Increase & Modification of Alimony
An increase in income must last one continuous year before used as a reason for a attempted upward modification
Any increase, at any time may open up the subject of modification – even if the increase is short term
Alimony Modification When Child Support Ends
Child support termination may not be used as a reason to modify alimony
Alimony may be modified on a showing that more money is available due to child support termination
Retirement & termination or modification of Alimony
Retirement is defined as a reason for modification or termination of alimony. The petition may be filed in anticipation of retirement (before the actual retirement)
Retirement is considered and there is a right to terminate. But that right is not as defined as it will be under the new statute. A petition normally must be filed at the time of retirement – not before
Attorney fees awarded for unnecessary litigation (drawing out cases)
The court may award attorney fees against a party that unnecessarily drags out an alimony modification case
Attorney fees are mostly awarded to the person earning the lower income – regardless of conduct during the case
How the new alimony law applies to prior judgments
Alimony ordered after a court hearing
The new alimony law applies to alimony awards, based strictly on a court order entered any time before July 1, 2013
Alimony agreed upon in a settlement agreement
The new alimony law applies to final orders based on an settlement agreement entered into before July 1, 2013 IF the duration of marriage was 15 years or less and the agreed upon alimony award exceeds the duration of marriage
When you can file for Modification if the new Alimony law does apply to your situation:
If the Alimony award/agreement is for 15 years or more – you can file a modification any time after July 1, 2013
If the Alimony award/agreement is for 8 – 15 years – you can file a modification any time after July 1, 2014
If the Alimony award/agreement is for less than 8 years – you can file a modification any time after July 1, 2015