Opponents and Supporters of Alimony Reform in Florida
It has been another controversial path to getting an alimony reform bill on the desk of Gov. Rick Scott. Opponents and supporters of SB 668 alike are waiting with great interest to see if Scott signs a bill that is similar to one he vetoed in 2013. Scott vetoed that previous alimony bill saying he could not support a clause that made it retroactive to all alimony cases.
Supporters of this year’s bill say the retroactive portion of the prior bill that reached the governor’s desk years ago has been removed, though opponents say SB 668 still carries cloaked language that allows for retroactive alimony modifications in cases of retirement and salary increases of alimony recipients. Some have also questioned the bill’s basic premise of mandating judges use calculated guidelines to determine alimony based on the duration of a marriage and the income of the two parties. The bill does include more than 20 criteria for deviating from those guidelines, but a judge would have to explain the reason for deviating from the guidelines in writing.
We have been following weeks of debate on SB 668 and its sister bill in the House, HB 455. Here is a look at some of the commentary from both opponents and supporters of alimony reform this legislative session.
HB 455 Sponsor Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland: The intent of this bill is to reduce litigation therefore preserving the assets of the families and spouses. The bill provides clear guidance. These are guidelines. The courts always have the discretion to look at the entire situation and use that discretion to decide the outcome of any potential adjustments to alimony.
Rep. George Moraitis Jr., R-Fort Lauderdale: I do support the goal of having a more predictable system. Divorce is one of those areas where the outcome literally could be anything.
Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples: I talked to lawyers on both sides of the issue. Both people representing plaintiffs and defendants and they have all said to me that this is the best compromise they can envision.
Florida Family Law Reform Member Larry Rutan: The 1960’s laws no longer work in today’s society. Any alimony reform should give equal consideration to both parties. One person struggles to live while the other person has endless income with no work. The courts allow this to happen most of the time. The longer a divorce can be dragged out the more lawyers and judges make more money. This may explain why a murder trial lasts three and four months, while a divorce lasts five and six years.
Florida Bar, Family Law Section Attorney Philip Wartenberg: This bill will provide more predictable results in alimony cases and that’s one of the things that we as a section would like to see in the law. We don’t like the uncertainty that now exists. (Note: There have been media reports that the Florida Family Law Section since Wartenberg made this comment has expressed opposition to SB 668 to Gov. Scott since language regarding 50/50 child time-sharing presumption was added to the bill as an amendment.)
SB 668 sponsor Kelli Stargel, D – Lakeland: So what it’s doing with the award is removing the emotion in a situation that is very emotional for all and moving it to the financial decision.
Family Law Reform President Alan Frisher: No legislation is perfect. But it’s a far better cry than what we have right now, which is absolutely nothing. Judges right now can create willy-nilly amounts that are unfathomable and unable to be paid.
Sun Sentinel Editorial Board opinion: We are not going to pretend that disputes so fraught with emotion can be settled to everyone’s satisfaction. We are not going to pretend that, in every case, alimony and custody reforms advancing in the Florida legislature are going to end the injustices that mar the current rules. Overall, though, the reforms will treat all parties in a divorce – both spouses and any children – more fairly.
Rep. Lori Berman, D- Boynton Beach: The way I’m reading it is if you make $10-an-hour, roughly $400-a-week, and you get an increase to $11-a-hour the court could lower your alimony. I’m just very concerned where the spouse who is not retiring is going to be able to make up that money from.
Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Opa Locka: I believe this bill is one-sided and it’s unfair. I believe this bill puts the spouse that worked inside of the home at a great disadvantage.
Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg: I think we have to be a little more mindful about what we are doing. It needs more work. Clearly there is a need for change but this is not the right way to go about it.
Family Law Attorney Mark Rabinowitz: It is simply unbelievable that there have been no socio-economic studies that verify and set forth that the ratios and ranges that have been put forth in this bill are accurate of bear any relationship at all to reality…. Nobody is fighting that there shouldn’t be guidelines, but what we are fighting are arbitrary numbers that were pulled out of the sky with no economic study. That is wrong.
Retired Circuit Judge Robert Evans: I agree there needs to be some guidelines and there needs to be some change. But this has some fundamental flaws that have to be fixed. If you don’t, bad things are going to happen to nice people.
Florida National Organization for Women Lobbyist Barbara DeVane: Many, many times the sponsors and supporters of this bill say that it will give certainty to the law. It certainly will. It will certainly throw thousands of women and their children into poverty.
League of Women Voters of Florida Pamela Goodman: We are strongly concerned as there is no economic data to support the “reforms” and the impact will clearly have a disproportionate hardship on Florida women and children. We urge you to vote no on these bills.
Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando: It does have an economic impact on the state and many families and so if we are going to step toward this major jump we should probably know the cost it will be not only to families but to the state.
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa: This is an assault in my opinion on a recipient be it male or female. I just think we haven’t taken a holistic look at the dramatic effect it’s going to have on women and children.
Sen. Gwen Marogolis, D-Miami: It opens up a lot of issues that are resolved issues and have been resolved issues for a lot of years. We are going to have hundreds and hundreds of men and women back in court negotiating something new and I don’t think it’s good.
Family Law Attorney Mark Sessums from an op-ed that ran in the Orlando Sentinel: Let’s just face it. Alimony “reform” is not about fairness or equity or an attempt to create order from chaos. If fairness were the desired result, the solution would then be simple: just equalize net income for a period equal to the length of the marriage.