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Florida Alimony Bill … Déjà Vu

March 24 2015

Florida Alimony Reform

In 2013 Florida’s alimony reform bill (Senate Bill 718/House Bill 231) was set to turn existing laws upside down. Permanent alimony would have become a thing of the past, and child custody would see significant changes. The measure also set limits for what people pay in alimony for short, medium, and long-term marriages.

Here is what the law was meant to do:

  • Do away with permanent alimony.
  • Generally prevent alimony payments from lasting longer than one-half the length of the marriage.
  • Eliminate alimony for people married less than 11 years.
  • Set a formula for alimony payments based on the income of the payer and the length of the marriage.
  • Allow ex-spouses who retire to end or reduce alimony.
  • Give judges the discretion for determining the amount of alimony only in special circumstances.
  • Change custody rules for children in divorced families.

But Governor Rick Scott vetoed the bill. He wrote,

“I have concluded that I cannot support this legislation because it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce. The retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

Now there is a new version of alimony reform that could please the Governor since it will not apply retroactively.

HB 943 will do away with permanent alimony and use formulas to determine payment amounts based on the lengths of marriage and the combined earnings of couples.

The measure would eliminate current bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational and permanent types of alimony but not affect temporary alimony. It would also change what are now considered short-term, mid-term and long-term marriages. Under the new plan, the category of mid-term marriages would be eliminated and long-term marriages, now defined as 17 years or longer, would apply to unions of 20 years or more.

The formula for the duration of alimony payments is based on the number of years of marriage, while the amount of the payments relies on a couple’s gross income — the higher earner’s salary minus the earnings of the spouse seeking alimony — and sets the length of time for alimony payments.

The proposed bill would also allow an alimony payer to ask for a reduction if an ex-spouse’s income increases by 10 percent. But the recipient would not be able to seek an increase in payments unless the payer was unemployed or underemployed at the time the alimony was set.

There is also the requirement that alimony payments stop when a paying ex-spouse becomes eligible for full Social Security benefits. Reduction or elimination of payments would apply in cases where the recipient not just remarries, but enters a  “financially supportive relationship” even if he or she is not living with that partner.

For the first time:

  • The Court would have to consider whether a spouse could be earning more money, which would affect the amount of alimony.
  • Payers would not have to pay more than 55 percent of their net income for alimony and child support payments.
  • If a payer remarried, the new spouse’s assets and income could not be used as a reason to increase the alimony paid.
  • Alimony payments could not be increased just because the payer’s income rose.
  • Spouses in short-term marriages (two years or less) would only get alimony under extreme extenuating circumstances.

A similar version of HB 943 has been introduced in the Florida Senate.