by Luis E. Insignares, Esq.
In the first three editions of this column we looked at how the “alimony reform” movement (whose biggest statewide lobbying group is called “Florida Alimony Reform,” or FAR) first kicked into high gear in Florida in 2010, and culminated in the 2013 veto of a bill which was too extreme even for Governor Scott, who is not known as a shrinking violet when it comes to passing edgy legislation. Which brings us to the present, and leaves me fresh out of ways to work “FAR” into a punny title for this piece. Having completed this recent “trilogy” of sorts, however, we can go a bit further back in time and find a “prequel,” if you will, to “alimony reform” in Florida, in the “supportive relationship” statute. This provision, a portion of the alimony modification statute, originated with 2005 Senate Bill 152, sponsored by Orlando Democrat Gary Siplin, who subsequently became known for supporting traditionally conservative measures such as legislative attempts to promote prayer in public schools, and to tie public school teachers’ livelihoods to standardized test scores.
The Senate Staff Analysis and Economic Impact Statement (“Staff Analysis” hereinafter) for Bill 152 summarizes the legislation thusly:
This committee substitute authorizes the court to reduce or terminate an award of alimony where the court has made specific written findings, through a preponderance-of-theevidence showing by the obligor, that a de facto marriage exists between the obligee and a person of the opposite sex. Provisions in this committee substitute identify a variety of criteria to be used in determining whether a de facto marriage exists. …These provisions provide an alternate method to a court to reduce or terminate alimony, without requiring the court to make a threshold determination of a change in financial circumstance, as is currently law. – Staff Analysis, at p.1.
Interestingly, the above analysis notes the lack of a “threshold determination” about a change in financial circumstances, but if in fact the legislation was meant to make alimony law more economically fair and equitable, then the new statute would necessarily still require that the obligee’s financial circumstances have changed as a result of entering into a “supportive relationship,” at some point in the analysis. In other words, if the new statute merely moved the requirement of a substantial change in financial circumstances from the “front end” to the “back end” of the analysis, query whether any real net change would be effected by the statute’s passage?
From the obligee’s standpoint, the only difference effected by Senate Bill 152’s removal of a “threshold determination of a change in financial circumstance” would be to give the obligor a license to go poking about in her (or his) postmarital personal living arrangements, without requiring that such investigation be based on any economic change relevant to the obligor’s duty of support. (I note this concern only because this very same criticism has subsequently been voiced in response to suggestions that any “de facto marriage” provision, in order to comport with basic standards of equality and fairness, must necessarily apply both to obliges and obligors.)
At any rate, there is no doubt that the factual scenario of an obligee ex-spouse “shacking up” with a new paramour, in order to avoid having alimony end due to remarriage, is a recurring one that has long vexed obligors. However, this raises the question whether Florida law didn’t already provide obligors a remedy, making the “supportive relationship” statute an unnecessary incursion on trial courts’ ability and discretion to modify a support duty in response to such a change in circumstances. I would posit that such a remedy already clearly did exist.
For example, in Reno v. Reno, 884 So. 2d 462 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004), a former husband was granted a reduction in alimony where the former wife’s fiancé was paying all her living expenses except for her cell phone bill. See also, Bridges v. Bridges, 842 So. 2d 983 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003) (former wife who was cohabitating with man failed to meet burden of showing continued need for alimony, and thus, ex-husband’s request to reduce alimony would be granted such that ex-wife would receive nominal $1 monthly).
It is an economic fact that, although a former spouse in a long-term marriage who has sacrificed her or his employability in order to raise the children (or otherwise) must be supported in the marital lifestyle, but that (because two cannot live separately as cheaply as they can together) frequently a payor spouse is unable to provide such support. If the obligee is prohibited from “shacking up” without inquiry into whether her need has changed, should not the same rule apply to such an obligor’s ability to pay? Or should what’s good for the goose not be good for the gander?
Meanwhile, seek justice. RG