Staff Writer, Ayo & Iken Law Firm
March 11, 2021
TALLAHASSEE – A renewed effort to reform Florida’s antiquated alimony law is making its way through the Florida legislature and proponents of the latest bill say changes are long overdue. HB 1559 and SB 1922 are sponsored by Representative Anthony Rodriguez (R) of Miami and Senator Joe Gruters (R) of Sarasota, respectively, and are scheduled for debate in several committees this month.
According to bill architect Attorney Marc Johnson, last year’s House bill died before reaching the floor for a vote, due to the Senate companion bill missing deadlines in committee. Johnson says, “This year the bills were filed timely and are progressing more quickly than in years past, with both Bills already referenced to committee.”
Florida is just one of six states that still allows Judges to grant permanent alimony in divorce proceedings, but supporters of reform say it’s doing more harm than good and usually leaves the recipient living a comfortable lifestyle, while the payer often struggles well-beyond retirement age. But that could all change come July 1, 2021 if lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can find common ground.
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One element of the bill has drawn criticism from reform proponents; the inclusion of requiring Judges to presume time-sharing between mothers and fathers are equal. Some reform advocates believe prior bills have failed because time-sharing has nothing to do with alimony, but Rep. Rodriguez says they couldn’t be more wrong. According to Rodriguez, “The reason we included that in the bill is that we want the children to be at the forefront of divorce and separation – what I mean is that I want the children to be what matters most.” He goes on to say, “Often the opposition has said it could be used as leverage, but it’s not about what the parents are going through, I believe that children in an average household belong with both parents.” Rodriguez continues, “This bill is not an anti-alimony bill, it’s not a gender issue either, this is an equality issue, this is a bill about fairness and it’s a bill that prioritizes the children.”
According to the latest census report, only 3% of men in the United States receive alimony, and with the wage gap closing in and more women being ordered to pay alimony, advocates believe it’s only logical to create a “gender-neutral” formula for determining alimony.
If adopted, the measure would completely do away with permanent alimony and create a formula for attorneys to use in determining bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, or durational alimony. The extent of durational alimony would not be allowed to exceed 50% of the length of the marriage. Rehabilitative alimony would not exceed 5 years, which is already the current rule. If an obligor remarries, the recipient will no longer be able to request a modification based on the income of the obligor’s new spouse.
Although it is not termed retroactive, anyone currently ordered to pay permanent alimony would be eligible to follow the proposed guidelines.
Rodriguez says he expects opposition from Democrats, specifically the National Organization for Women and the Florida Bar, who vehemently oppose any change to current law. Democrats are concerned that women would end up dependent on the taxpayer, but statistics from other states have shown no spike in public assistance after removing permanent alimony.