TALLAHASSEE – The Legislature is poised to pass a major rewrite of Florida’s alimony and child-support laws that will impact the nearly 80,000 divorces filed each year.
The bill (SB 668), sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, will end permanent alimony and create a formula, based on the length of marriages, for alimony payments. It will allow alimony to be changed if a spouse retires, gets a pay raise or is supported by another partner.
It would create a “premise” that child sharing after a divorce should be on an “approximately equal” basis between the parents.
The legislation appeared to be in jeopardy in the 2016 session, but new modifications from the Senate have won tentative approval from key House leaders, meaning lawmakers may end a three-year struggle to find agreement on an alimony reform bill. Their last attempt in 2013 was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.
The breakthrough came when Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, amended the Senate alimony bill on Tuesday, backing off his original plan to require divorce cases begin with the legal presumption that child-sharing should be on a 50-50 basis between the parents.
House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, who objected to the 50-50 presumption, said “at first glance” Lee has advanced an acceptable compromise on the child-sharing provision.
“I think he’s come a long way,” Workman said. “He found a way to get a judge to start at 50-50, without making it a legal right.”
Workman also said he likes another provision in Lee’s amendment that would require judges to write a detailed explanation of the time-sharing plans that they approve.
Lee on Wednesday said it was “premature” to announce that lawmakers have resolved their differences on the alimony bill, but he added lawmakers are making progress on a final agreement.
“I hope we can get it all worked out and move forward. We’ve worked on it a long time,” Lee said.
The legislation remains contentious, with the Senate bill clearing the Appropriations Committee in a 13-6 vote on Tuesday.
In testimony before the committee, Robert Doyel, a retired circuit judge from Polk County, questioned how the courts are going to interpret terms like “premise” and “approximately equal” when it comes to child sharing.
“It’s going to create all kinds of litigation,” Doyel said. “Who’s going to know what premise means as opposed to presumption….The lawyers are going to love this. They’re going to be fighting over this for years and being paid for it.”
Lee has said moving to a premise of equal child sharing is a more specific standard than the current law which calls for “frequent and continuing contact with both parents.”
Doyel also questioned the legislation’s formula for setting ranges on alimony, with larger awards going to marriages of 20 years or more. Alimony would not be granted, in most cases, to marriages of less than two years.
Having presided over numerous divorce cases, Doyel said the formula could lead to “arbitrary and capricious” results.
Alan Frisher, head of the Family Law Reform advocacy group that supports the legislation, said the formula would replace a system where there is “absolutely nothing” to guide the judge’s decisions.
“Judges right now willy-nilly can create amounts that are unfathomable and unable to be paid,” Frisher said.
The Senate is scheduled to take ip ts alimony bill today, with a floor vote on Friday, sending it to the House, where a similar bill (HB 455), sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, is awaiting a floor vote.
Workman said the bill is a major improvement on the measure passed by the Legislature in 2013. He said he agreed with Scott’s rejection of the 2013 bill on the basis it would have had a retroactive effect and would have opened up many former divorce settlements to new litigation.
Workman said the new bill is more likely to win Scott’s support. “Hopefully, we’ll avoid the veto,” he said.
by Lloyd Dunkelberger
Posted on http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20160302/article/160309920
Contact a divorce lawyer in Tallahassee for more information.