Florida Alimony Reform Passes

The Florida Legislature made history on April 18 with the passage of sweeping changes to the state’s outdated alimony reform laws. The Florida House voted 85-31 in favor of HB 231, which eliminates permanent alimony, replacing it with bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, or durational alimony to consistently ensure swift resolution for families. Earlier this month, companion bill SB 718 passed 29-11 in the Florida Senate. Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) was the sponsor. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.

In addition to ending permanent alimony, the bill would cut the judge’s discretion by capping spousal maintenance awards based on the length of the marriage and the income and earning capacity of the parties. However, the bill does provide the court the authority to stray from alimony guidelines in “special circumstances,” a vague standard which will have to be interpreted by the courts.

The provision of the bill that perhaps is most controversial among opponents is a retroactive application of divorce agreements entered into before July 2013. Under the Bill, people who have previously been ordered to pay permanent alimony now have the ability to bring their alimony case before a judge for a modification. Supporters of the bill say this is sure to be a great relief to many people who feel financially handcuffed to an ex-spouse, sometimes even decades later. Lawmakers in support of the bill hope that the bill will curtail what they see as inequitable public policy and bring fairness to the family law system. The Bill places guidelines for alimony based on the length of marriages and changes the definition of short-term, moderate-term and long-term marriages to less than 11 years, 11-19 years, and 20 or more years, respectively.

The legislation requires the court to make written findings justifying any extension of alimony outside of the prescribed guidelines. The former spouse seeking alimony also must prove they have a need, and the obligor must have the ability to pay, under the legislation.

While the bill bans permanent alimony, it does keep intact the remaining three types of alimony: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative and durational. It also makes clear that they can be combined only when the goal is to achieve rehabilitation.

The bill places in statute a presumption that equal time sharing with a minor child by both parents is presumed to be in the best interest of the child unless the court finds a parent is unfit. There are exceptions, such as if the court finds that the safety, well-being and health of the child would be endangered; clear and convincing evidence of extenuating circumstances which justify a departure; a parent is incarcerated; or distance between parental households is too great.

The legislation also places into law a rebuttable presumption against awarding alimony for a short-term marriage, but does allow for exceptions. If the court finds need, it shall determine a monthly award of alimony that may not exceed 25 percent of the obligor’s gross monthly income.

Perhaps most importantly for those who want the change is the rebuttable presumption in law that when determining alimony “both parties will have a lower standard of living after the dissolution of marriage than the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage.” Current law allows a judge to take into consideration “the standard of living established during the marriage” when determining alimony.

There is no presumption in favor for either party in mid-term marriages and alimony would be no greater than 35 percent of the obligor’s monthly income.

For long-term marriages there is a rebuttable presumption in favor of awarding alimony. To overcome the assumption, a party must show clear and convincing evidence that there is no need for alimony. Alimony may not exceed 38 percent of the obligor’s monthly income in this case.

For questions about the new Alimony Reform Bill and your possible right to seek modification of current alimony payments, contact Smith & Vanture at (800) 443-4529 or www.SmithVanture.com

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