A Bridge Too Far: The 2013 Alimony Debacle

by Luis E. Insignares, Esq.

After making notable gains in the years immediately prior, in 2013 the leaders of the movement to put an end to permanent alimony in Florida once and for all (the most notable lobbying organization of the movement goes by the more innocuous, and arguably inaccurate name “Florida Alimony Reform”) marshaled all their forces for a final assault. In 2010 FAR supporters had codified Florida’s common-law three tier system as to the length of a marriage and its relationship to the propriety of awarding permanent alimony. Existing presumptions regarding awarding permanent alimony were expressly written into the alimony statute, as well as a totally new option called “durational alimony.” In 2011 durational alimony was expanded to be applicable even to long-term marriages, if there were “no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis,” as well as limiting permanent alimony to cases where the court included “a finding that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the circumstances of the parties.”

All of these changes, however, were not enough for the alimony “reform” movement. 2013 saw Senate Bill 718, sponsored by Lakeland Republican Senator Kelli Stargel, with an additional five “co-introducers” (four Republicans and one Democrat). This massive bill stretched to 34 pages long, and was so controversial as to be the subject of some 36 amendments before its eventual passage by both houses of the Florida legislature.

Even the official summary of the bill is a good page long. It states that the bill (emphasis supplied):

  • Eliminates permanent, periodic alimony and limits a court’s ability to award durational alimony.
  • Limits the term of an award of durational alimony to 50 percent of the length of marriage unless the proponent shows sufficient need for a longer award, as supported in writing by the court.
  • Provides a rebuttable presumption against an alimony award following a short-term marriage.
  • Creates a rebuttable presumption in favor of an alimony award following a long-term marriage.
  • Places caps on alimony payments expressed as a percentage of the income of the obligor. The caps vary based on the length of marriage.
  • Provides that equal time-sharing by the parents is in the best interest of a minor child unless the court finds that equal time will pose a danger or be impracticable. This provision applies prospectively.
  • Provides that the court must consider the same factors in awarding temporary alimony, alimony requested without a concurrent filing of a dissolution of marriage, and alimony required pursuant to a dissolution of marriage.
  • Establishes formulas for a court to use in determining the value of the marital portion of nonmarital real property which is subject to equitable distribution in a divorce proceeding. The formulas apply if a party paid down a note and mortgage on the property with marital funds.
  • Increases the number of years required for a marriage to qualify as a short-term, mid-term, or long-term marriage.
  • Prioritizes alimony ordered by the court in order of preference starting with bridge-the-gap alimony, followed by rehabilitative alimony.
  • Requires the court to consider as a factor in alimony determinations nonmarital assets relied upon during the marriage.
  • Requires, rather than permits, the court to modify or terminate alimony upon a showing of a supportive relationship between the obligee and a third party.
  • Prohibits an alimony award to a party whose income is equal to or greater than the other party.
  • Clarifies that the court must consider the retirementof the obligor of an alimony award as a substantial change in circumstances.
  • Provides for the retroactive application of the guidelines specifying the amount and duration of alimony awards.
  • Provides a schedule for filing petitions to modify an existing alimony award based on the duration of the alimony obligation.

The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar not only formally opposed the legislation, but even went so far as to explain its position on a newly-launched website, TruthAboutFlAlimony.com, and sponsored a petition drive seeking a veto, on change. org, which eventually got 2,749 digital “signatures.” Senator Stargel defended the bill, claiming it “continue[d] to protect women by retaining judicial discretion,” Megan E. Davis, Lawmakers Pass Alimony Bill, Florida Bar News (April 30, 2013), but as the above synopsis shows, in fact the gist of the bill was quite contrary to her claim, greatly limiting the discretion of trial courts in crafting appropriate remedies.

To the surprise of many, Governor Scott vetoed the bill, stating, “I have concluded that I cannot support this legislation because it applies retroactively and thus tampers with settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.” Id., Editor’s Note Update. This, of course, leaves open the possibility that these same provisions will be passed all over again, without the retroactivity provisions. So stay tuned. RG

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