The Trouble with Alimony Reform (Editorial)

Pending before Florida legislation are HB 549 and SB 748.

Both of these are radical attempts to eliminate / reduce certain types of spousal support.

In essence, if enacted, the new bills would:

  • Eliminate permanent alimony.
  • Eliminate ability to award a combination of forms of alimony in appropriate circumstances.
  • Caps alimony at 20% of payor’s net income averaged over last three years of marriage.
  • Eliminates “standard of living” as a factor in determining alimony.
  • Eliminates income from non-marital assets as source of payment for alimony.
  • Caps length of durational alimony to one half the length of the marriage.
  • Long term marriage (20 years)  term cannot exceed 60% of length of marriage.
  • Alimony terminates at payor attaining full retirement age
  • Obligor’s new spouse’s income would be be considered in modification action.

While there is a good argument that alimony reform, such as the implementation of “alimony guidelines”, is needed the changes suggested by these bills are RADICAL and UNFAIR.  It would deprive the Court of their ability to take into account the recipient’s financial realities as to the necessities of life as opposed to an arbitrary percentage of the Obligor’s income.   There is no real rationale behind many of these changes which lock a Court into positions that may not fit the individual circumstances of a particular family’s reality. 

If you have an opinion one way or another, please share it with your Florida Legislator.

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11 thoughts on “The Trouble with Alimony Reform (Editorial)

  1. Anonymous

    Regarding the Alimony bill: SB748:

    I read the Senate’s original and the Committee Substitute bills. The original bill addresses the serious flaws in Florida alimony law. The committee substitute bill that was forwarded by the Judicial Committee does essentially nothing to address the flaws in Florida alimony law.
    For example:
    – The original bill eliminates compounded alimony of different types. The substitute bill retains the court’s ability to apply multiple types of simultaneous alimony.
    – The original bill makes alimony tax-deductible to the payer and taxable to the receiver. The substitute bill makes it possible for the court to punitively make payments taxable to the payer.
    – The original bill establishes defined limits on alimony duration, where alimony can be required for up to 50% of a marriage duration (60% for long-term marriages over 20 years). The substitute bill allows short-term alimony for a period matching the duration of the marriage, and simply renames permanent alimony as long-term instead of permanent, but it must be paid until either the payer or recipient dies.
    – The original bill ends alimony at retirement age. The substitute bill keeps alimony into retirement.
    – The original bill allows courts to require a life insurance policy to sustain alimony for the duration. The substitute bill allows courts to require a life insurance policy or bond that the payer must fund to cover the duration of the alimony (possibly the lifetime of the recipient).
    – The original bill extends long-term marriage to marriages lasting 20 or more years (long enough for early-marriage children to graduate from high-school). The substitute bill retains long-term marriage at 17 years and institutes mandatory, permanent alimony if you choose to divorce after17 years.
    – The original bill removes established standard of living from the equation, and substitutes income averaged over the last 3 years. The substitute bill retains a vague clause requiring the court to consider established standard of living.
    – The original bill separates assets brought into the marriage from assets acquired during the marriage. The substitute bill includes any assets that you brought into the marriage as part of the court’s alimony considerations. This means that if you owned a house or a boat prior to marriage, they now become part of the court’s subjective alimony consideration.
    – Finally, the original bill takes adultery out of the equation when awarding alimony. The substitute extends the original law to include the consideration of adultery and any costs of adultery into the punitive alimony award.

    My short take: I support the original bill and wholeheartedly oppose the Judicial Committee substitute written by Senator Flores.
    – If your marriage is not so good and you have less than 17 years, the original bill gives you time to see if you can work things out without committing yourself to a lifetime of financial abuse. If you have kids in school, you might at least be able to get them out of school before deciding whether you’re going to stay together.
    – If the substitute bill passes, you take a risk in ending your relationship before 17 years because Florida legal precedent has been awarding permanent alimony to marriages of less than 17 years, but the longer you wait, the worse-off you will be if you do decide to end your relationship. You will not have a choice to wait until your kids graduate. You will need to decide whether to take a risk on a punitive judgement earlier, or be forced into lifetime indebtedness.

    Under current Florida statute, or under the substitute bill, I think that getting married means taking a gigantic risk on your future resources, even if the marriage doesn’t work as well as you’d hoped. In addition, the original law and the substitute bill give the alimony recipient no incentive to adjust, find a new partner, or re-educate and get a better job.

    The original proposed bill (not the Judiciary Committee Substitute) gives a couple the chance to get married, see if it works, and separate with a reasonable time for the lesser-earning partner to adjust, find a new partner, re-educate, etc.

    -Anonymous

    • Jose

      One of the Big problems with the present law is that no matter if the lower earner ex-spouse has a Doctorate Degree and makes $100,000/year she might still get awarded permanent alimony since the Courts can utilize the infamous “marital standard of living”.
      Is a healthy Dentist with an active disability insurance at risk of becoming a burden to society or the government?
      I pay $50,000/year of permanent alimony to a Dentist.
      d

  2. This reminds me of what Texas has–NO permanent alimony and only temporary alimony pending the final judgment. Spouses who have forgone their own careers for the benefit of the other party essentially get NO recognition of their sacrifice

  3. Anonymous

    I read the C1 version of HB 549 and can get behind it.

    I think that alimony should not be extended longer than half the duration of the marriage, and the C1 version of HB 549 allows alimony for the full duration of the marriage, but it does require a court to find in favor of durational (time limited) over long-term (until remarriage, retirement, or death) alimony unless there are clear reasons why long-term is required.
    I also find that the C1 version of HB 549 requires courts to assume that the standard of living will decrease for both parties, and to consider the standard of living for both parties when awarding alimony. This is much more equitable than Florida’s current alimony law, which only considers the recipient’s standard of living during and after marriage.
    The C1 version takes assets acquired outside of the marriage out of the alimony equation. This is only fair if pension and retirement plans were built up before the parties married. Only the values acquired during the marriage would be applied to alimony.
    HB 549C1 amends HB549 while maintaining most the basic goals of the bill (other than completely eliminating permanent alimony). This is a major improvement over SB 748C1, which discards the goals of the bill and proposes a significantly less equitable, punitive alimony law.

    – Anonymous

  4. Anonymous - my spouse checks my email

    HB 0549 C1 vs. C2

    In general, I favor the original bill over C1, but appreciate some of the modifications in C1. As a whole, I favor C1 over C2, but prefer some of the modifications in C2. I’d like to see a merger of the three.

    C1 limits combined alimony to rehabilitative + bridge-the-gap. (preferred); C2 limits combined alimony to a combination of rehabilitative, bridge-the-gap, short term, and long-term
    C1 looks at the standard of living for both parties in the marriage, (preferred); C2 does not.
    C1 looks at assets acquired during the marriage only. (preferred); C2 looks at assets brought into the marriage by either party.
    C1 makes alimony tax-deductible to the payor and taxable to the recipient. (preferred); C2 defers tax deductability to state and federal laws
    C1 and C2 assume that the standard of living for both parties will decrease
    C1 and C2 limit other equity and justice factors by requiring findings of fact by the court.
    C1 deducts the cost of security/life insurance from the alimony award. C2 also requires special circumstances and evidentiary findings (preferred)
    C1 and C2 extend long-term marriage from 17 to 20 years
    C1 requires rehabilitative alimony to be modified or terminated if the recipient completes the rehabilitative plan, does not comply with the rehabilitative plan, or there is a change of circumstances. (preferred); C2 allows for modification at the court’s discretion.
    C1 presumes durational over long-term (permanent) alimony and terminates upon the existence of a supportive relationship. (preferred); C2 requires that the court provide written reasons why durational alimony is required over bridge-the-gap and rehabilitative alimony and terminates upon the existence of a supportive relationship, but allows the court to continue durational upon exceptional circumstances (with written findings).
    C1 does not allow durational alimony to be awarded for longer than the duration of the marriate. C2 requires the court to make written findings if durational alimony is awarded for longer than 50% of the duration of the marriage (preferred)
    C1 and C2 allow long-term (permanent) alimony with written findings that no other form of alimony will suffice, and require termination if a supportive relationship exists.
    C1 and C2 require alimony to not leave the payor with significantly less net income than the recipient.
    C1 deletes section 61.14-1-a (going to court to change support). C2 requires increases in the payor’s income to be maintained for more than 1 year before adjusting an alimony award. (preferred)
    C1 and C2 require the court to terminate alimony if the recipient is in a supportive relationship except with a written finding of exceptional circumstances.
    C1 requires the recepient to declare a supportive relationship and to pay back alimony paid during that supportive relationship as well as court costs and legal fees if the payer needs to go to court. C2 presumes that the recipient will pay back alimony paid during a supportive relationship and requires the recipient to pay court costs and legal fees if the court finds that the recipient litigated unnecessarily. (I prefer a merger of the two)
    C1 and C2 do not allow reinstation of alimony upon termination of a supportive relationship
    C1 and C2 do not consider income from the payer’s new spouse in the alimony award
    C1 and C2 do not allow alimony to increase when child support ends.
    C1 and C2 terminate alimony upon retirement of they payer unless the court presents written findings of exceptional circumstances.
    C1 requires the recipient to maximize rehabilitative potential for self-support. (preferred); C2 does not unless a rehabilitative plan is established.
    C2 defers to existing law to set guidelines for alimony awards. C1 makes no mention of this. (I have not reviewed the existing law)
    C1 allows the court to split the divorce from the separation/alimony 180 days after filing. C2 allows the court to split the divorce from the separation/alimony 180 days after filing and requires the court to split the proceedings after 365 days if either party requests the split. (preferred)
    C2 allows the court to restrict sale of property and marital assets, continue insurance support, and establish temporary support during split proceedings. (preferred); C1 provides no guidance on this.

    – Anonymous

  5. A fairness proponent

    Radical? Perhaps. Unfair? Really? Versus current the rules? An assumption on my part – since you are a divorce attorney, your real fear is that the originally proposed “radical” reforms would cut into your income. Let me ask a question: do you think the legislation that provides the courts with guidelines on child support are fair? Or do you believe those awards should also be left to a judge’s discretion? I guess if your practice was in child advocacy, you would fight against guidelines. Because in the end, well thought out guidelines are necessary, fair and reduce lawyer’s billable hours.

    • I am all for alimony reform, just not something this radical. I do believe that there should be guidelines in alimony cases so we do not get such diverse results from a diverse judiciary. I assume you resort to personal attacks in your argument because you have depleted your reserve of logic. One good thing about this legislation is it is creating a lot of discussion so reasonable necessary changes can be made in the future. Thank you for your comment. -eddie stephens

  6. Wait-A-Minute

    Wide range of strong opinions on the topic. Even among judges. This bill is plainly reactionary, but changes are a com’in. Suggestive guidlines with extensive criteria which must be considered and addressed in any award or denial of spousal support seems to be the way to go. Don’t like to see ‘alimony drunks’ but don’t want to see legitimate needs go unaddressed, either.

  7. Wait-A-Minute

    Real unanswered question, raised by the art work on this blog, seems to be, ‘When did Joe Montana become a judge?’

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