UPDATE: GOVERNOR SCOTT VETOES SENATE BILL SB 718
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2013 Florida Alimony Reform Goes Too Far on Short Term Alimony<
A vigorous debate is taking place in the Florida Legislature regarding two alimony reform bills. The Senate’s version is numbered SB 718 and the House’s version is numbered HB 231. Much of the rhetoric in support of alimony reform from groups like Florida Alimony Reform (“FAR”) is focused on permanent alimony horror stories. While I certainly don’t agree with FAR on a number points, some of the proposed reforms to permanent alimony, such as making it easier for a person to terminate permanent alimony when they reach social security retirement age, are worthy of consideration by the Legislature.
A Presumption against Alimony in Short Term Marriages
It would take thousands of words to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed alimony reform pending in Florida’s Legislature, so I am focusing on a narrow part of the proposed reform which affects short term alimony. Senate Bill 718, as of 3/27/2013, states in relevant part:
“…There is a rebuttable presumption against awarding alimony for short term marriages. A party seeking bridge-the-gap or rehabilitative alimony may overcome this presumption by demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence a need for alimony.”
Currently, there are no presumptions against a court awarding bridge-the-gap or rehabilitative alimony in short term marriages.
The current definitions of bridge-the-gap and rehabilitative alimony are as follows:
1) Bridge-The-Gap Alimony
Bridge-the gap alimony may be awarded to assist a spouse by providing support to facilitate the transition from being married to being single. Bridge-the-gap alimony is for short-term needs, and the length is not exceed a period of two years. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony shall not be modifiable in amount or duration.
2) Rehabilitative Alimony
Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to assist a spouse in establishing the capacity for self-support. Rehabilitative alimony must be accompanied by a specific plan. Rehabilitation may include:
a) The redevelopment of previous skills or credentials; or
b) The acquisition of education, training, or work experience necessary to develop appropriate employment skills or credentials.
Rehabilitative alimony may be terminated for non-compliance with a rehabilitation plan.
In my practice as a Jacksonville family law attorney, I occasionally see clients in “short term” marriages (currently defined as seven years or less) experience dire financial circumstances when separated from a bread winning spouse. Consider this hypothetical situation: hypothetical stay-at-home wife, who was formerly employed in the technology sector, has stayed at home for the last five years since being married. The hypothetical husband, who makes a good living in medicine, has moved out of the residence with a new paramour and refuses to provide the wife support. The hypothetical parties have limited assets aside from husband’s pay. In the last five years, the hypothetical wife’s job skills have become outdated in the fast moving technology sector. Should Florida law make it harder for the wife to receive short term alimony while she updates her skills to regain employment?
In my view, there shouldn’t be a presumption against parties in short terms marriages from receiving bridge-the-gap or rehabilitative alimony. Such a presumption runs contrary to the “systemic culture of dependency” rhetoric proponents of alimony reform express as a basis for alimony reform. Both rehabilitative and bridge-the gap are “get back on your feet” types of alimony. They are short term in nature and are designed to transition a dependent spouse back to independence. Under the current alimony law, family law judges have the discretion to award or not award rehabilitative and bridge-the gap alimony based on a number of factors. Let’s not place barriers to spouses who need help getting back on their feet.