2014 Florida Alimony Reform UpdateTallahassee, Florida - Old State Capitol

Alimony reform was one of the most highly publicized political issues during the 2013 Florida legislative session. Both sides of the issue worked hard to advance their respective positions.  In the end, despite strong support in the Florida Legislature, Governor Rick Scott vetoed alimony reform, citing the retroactive applicability of  Senate Bill SB 718 to existing alimony judgments as the principle reason. Of course, there is more to the story than the reasons cited by Governor Scott.

Let’s begin with the most important element of alimony reform: Florida’s political climate.  With strong support for alimony reform in the Florida Legislature and the highly organized Florida alimony reform group, Florida Alimony Reform a/k/a Family Law Reform, Inc. (“FAR”), an alimony reform bill in the 2014 legislative session is highly likely.  The question is will Governor Scott sign an alimony reform bill into law in 2014?

Governor Scott & Alimony Reform

Governor Scott has relatively strong support among center right and right wing male voters. The Governor’s biggest political risk in the next election cycle is not connecting with female voters. Since alimony is primarily paid to women, Governor Scott runs the risk of alienating female voters if he signs a bill into law that is perceived to be too draconian or insensitive to women who are dependent on alimony payments.

The League of Women Voters strongly opposed last legislative session’s Senate Bill SB 718. If Governor Scott signs a bill in 2014 that swings the pendulum too far in favor alimony of alimony payors, who are primarily men, he runs the risk of his reelection opponent, likely Charlie Crist, casting him as anti-women. A race between Governor Scott and Former Governor Crist will be close. Comprehensive alimony reform is a political risk Governor Scott may be unwilling to take.

It is no secret that many in the alimony movement were upset with Governor Scott’s veto of Senate Bill SB 718, but Governor Scott is still alimony reform’s best hope. If Charlie Crist or another Democrat becomes the next Governor of Florida, Florida alimony reform will likely be delayed even longer due to the Democratic Party favoring women’s issues.

Florida’s Legislature & Alimony Reform

Alimony reform still has strong support in Florida’s Legislature. Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) in the Florida Senate and Representative Ritch Workman (R-Melbourne) in the Florida House are the legislative leaders of alimony reform.

Sen. Stargel was a stay at home mother for much of her marriage to Judge John K. Stargel. She comes from a politically connected family with deep roots in Florida. Considering that Sen. Stargel is a woman and politically connected, she is perhaps alimony reform’s most important political ally.  She is the perfect lawmaker to deflect the anti-woman criticism of alimony reform and deal with the intense politics of the Florida Senate.

Rep. Ritch Workman is vocal and passionate about alimony reform. Rep. Workman is charismatic, funny and a good communicator. Rep. Workman strongly believes in alimony reform and will push hard for alimony reform in 2014. Rep. Workman is also a close friend of FAR’s leader, Alan Frisher.

Why Doesn’t the Florida Legislature Override a Future Governor Scott Veto?

Even though the Florida Legislature overwhelmingly passed alimony reform in 2013, it is highly unlikely the Republican controlled Legislature will override a future Governor Scott veto. A veto override would do too much political damage to the Republican Party and Governor Scott to be an option. Even though Rep. Workman and Sen. Stargel disagree with Governor Scott on alimony reform, they are still loyal to their Governor and their political party.

Florida’s Alimony Reform Lobby

FAR’s membership packed a large room during FAR’s recent alimony reform conference in Orlando, Florida. FAR is an extremely well run organization. It is not surprising, considering the majority of its members have been successful in their business and professional lives. Without success, the alimony payors would not be in the position of paying alimony.

The leader of FAR is Alan Frisher. Mr. Frisher is down to earth, smart, and knows how Florida’s political system works. Mr. Frisher is looking to make his organization the watch dog for family law legislation and the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar.

FAR’s fund raising goals in 2014 is $200,000. With exception of a modest salary paid to Mr. Frisher, FAR is a volunteer organization. FAR will utilize the money it raises to run its organization and pay a pair of very effective lobbyists.

Jonathan Kilman, a Harvard Educated lawyer, is FAR’s lead lobbyist. Mr. Kilman is smart and experienced. He believes that legislators respond best to communication that is: a) persistent; b) rational and c) upset. Mr. Kilman contrasts upset with angry noting that angry outbursts directed at lawmakers are counter-productive. He urges FAR’s membership to follow his communication guidelines with legislators and avoid taking an angry tone.

The other Far lobbyist is Paul Lowell. Mr. Lowell, a Tallahassee veteran, is the technician of the FAR lobbying team. Mr. Lowell is a lobbyist/lawyer who specializes in crafting legislation.

The Florida Bar’s Family Law Section and other groups opposed to alimony reform should not underestimate the future effectiveness of FAR. FAR appears ready to leverage a ground swell of political support.

What type of Alimony Reform Can Floridian’s Expect in 2014?

At the recent FAR conference, representatives from FAR, Sen. Stargel and Rep. Workman were all of the opinion that alimony reform in 2014 would not be as comprehensive as the 2013 Bill. Since retroactivity is unlikely to be on the table in 2014, FAR representatives told alimony reform supporters attending the FAR conference in Orlando that while 2014 may not have as big of an impact on their case as the 2013’s Senate Bill SB 718, they must push for alimony reform for future generations.

Even with the retroactivity provisions removed, alimony bills in 2014 will still have the potential to impact existing alimony judgment through changes to the alimony modification standards. Here is a list of potential changes to existing Florida alimony law in 2014:

1)     More specific guidelines, definitions and procedures for modification of existing alimony obligations;

2)     Make it easier to modify alimony when a former spouse is in a supportive relationship (i.e., co-habituating);

3)     Establish specific guidelines for the amount and duration of alimony that may be awarded;

4)     Make it easier to modify existing alimony obligations when an alimony payor reaches legal retirement age;

5)     Remove the ability for judges to consider second spouses’ income when calculating an upward modification of alimony;

6)      Require judges to make specific written findings when awarding alimony.

Arguments For and Against Alimony Reform  

For:

1)     It promotes fairness and equality between the sexes.

2)     Reduces a culture of dependence created by alimony.

3)     It gives alimony receivers incentive to improve their career prospects and move on with their life.

4)     Allows parties of divorce to truly divorce and go their separate ways.

5)     Allows alimony payors to retire like other people in society.

Against:

1)     It is anti-women.

2)     Hurts women who have entered into marital settlement agreements in which they gave up property in order to receive an alimony benefit.

3)     If alimony reform is passed, it could create a burden on the State of Florida if dependent woman are unable to support themselves.

Contact Jacksonville Divorce Attorney Christopher Taylor

There will undoubtedly be more changes and twists to Florida alimony reform in late 2013 and 2014. I will strive to update this blog and present both sides of the issue as the Florida alimony reform debate unfolds. If you have questions about alimony reform in Florida, please do not hesitate to contact my office.  Media inquiries are welcome.

 

 

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF FLORIDA FAMILY LAW AND DIVORCE MEDIATION

Florida Family Law and Divorce Mediation

Florida Family Law and Divorce Mediation

Mediation is one of the most important, if the not most important step in the Florida divorce process. Why?  The majority of contested cases end in mediation. In North Florida, courts will order the parties to mediation before they may proceed to trial. In my experience as a divorce attorney practicing in Jacksonville, Florida, 80% to 90% cases are resolved in mediation.

The Family Law Mediation Process

Mediation customarily occurs at a divorce mediator’s office. Typically a divorce mediator is an experienced family law attorney who has practiced family law for a number of years and devotes all or part of his or her practice to mediation. In my opinion, it is critical that the mediator has practiced family law in the past because he or she must be able discuss likely outcomes if the case were to proceed to trial. If the mediator does not know the law and judges, then it will be difficult to discuss possible outcomes.

Mediation normally begins with both parties and their attorneys (if applicable) meeting in a central conference room with both parties stating their respective positions. After the introductory meeting, the parties are separated into separate private conference rooms. Once the parties are separated, the mediator will meet with each party to get his or her side of the story. The mediator will also ask what information they may share with the other party and what information they wish to remain confidential.

After the mediator obtains the facts and positions from the parties, he or she will take offers back and forth between the separate conference rooms.  If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator will draft a consent final judgment usually with input from the parties’ attorneys resolving all the issues on the case. The consent final judgment is the document that resolves all issues in the case and is usually approved by the parties’ judge.

Attitude

It is important to keep an open mind in the mediation process. There is a time to take things to trial in a divorce case, particularly if the opposing party is making unfair demands, but in most cases it will end up costing thousands of additional dollars in attorney’s fees. In a divorce it is understandable, and common, to be upset with the other party; however, mediation is the time to set aside prejudices and resolve your case based on the law and the facts. A good mediator and family law attorney will provide a realistic view of how your case will go at trial. The question is: do you want to pay thousands more to litigate or resolve your case relatively early in the process?

Complete Information

To effectively mediate a case, you should have complete information regarding the marital assets and liabilities. Unfortunately, it is common for one spouse to conceal assets from the other party. Before you come to mediation, you must do your due diligence to ensure all the cards are on the table. For example, if one spouse has a pension, do you know how much it is worth?

A good family law attorney will know how to obtain the information you need. If the other party is unwilling to turn over important financial information, an attorney can issue a subpoena or file a motion to compel discovery.

Preparation

One you have gathered all of the information about your case, the next step is to organize the information. If you understand all of the issues in the case, you will be better prepared to mediate. Preparation is critical because mediation often ends in settlement. If you make a deal and miss an important fact or issue, it is going to be difficult to change the terms of a mediated agreement in the future. Getting it right at mediation will save you money and provide peace of mind in the future.

Only Accept Fair Offers

It is in your best interest to accept fair and reasonable offers. That is one of the best reasons to have an attorney. A mediator’s role is to facilitate the process, not look out for your best interests. Your attorney will assist you with determining whether a settlement proposal is reasonable.

If a final settlement proposal is unreasonable, after extensive negotiation, it is time to walk. In many cases, I have seen an opposing party who maintained an unreasonable settlement position at mediation resolve the case immediately before trial.

Contact The Taylor Law Office

If you have questions about family law mediation in the Jacksonville, Florida area, please contact us at 904-339-5298 or through this website. Your first consultation is free.