The Future of Florida Alimony Reform in 2014

August 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Christopher Taylor in Uncategorized

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.

 

 

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25 Responses

  • Jerry Reiss says:

    I will be in the fight strongly against alimony reform. I can tell you that as most supporters you overplayed the reasons for and underplayed the reasons against. I stood for alimony reform in 2006 but we got it in 2010 and 2011. Anything significantly more is designed to eliminate alimony and then the people who want to turn back the clock to before ’88 go after other support like attorney’s fees. This movement is not about fairness it’s about reverting back to the person that controls the money keeps it. This is a preserving wealth movement plain and simple. The only thing that I would support is codifying the Levine line of cases for marriages under 20 years and making stronger the supportive relationship caps. Permanent alimony cannot end for very long term marriages or for enforcement of equitable distribution. The vast majority of high end assets will no longer be enforceable if permanent alimony is eliminated and this move can only be seen to favor the rich.

  • Dani Pearson says:

    I would like to share with you my personal experience as to why ALIMONY REFORM is necessary in Florida. It relates to the situation where a woman, married at a young age, decides that she likes the income and earnings of her husband who works ridiculous hours but also prefers to spend time with her younger lover. She requests a divorce at the age of 38 and due to the laws in Florida is told by her attorney that she is entitled to lifetime alimony since the marriage has lasted 17 years. She has found a way to keep the hard earned money that her husband brings home and at the same time engage in the “fun life” of a less professionally engaged lover. They live together, they do not marry, and the ex-husband is ordered to foot the bill, since he had given her a certain lifestyle while married, he is now ordered to “provide for her in the manner she is accustomed”. Over 6 years after the divorce, the husband at the urging of his attorney, decides to take action and end the financial suffering he has accepted and files for a modification based on supportive relationship, (permanent alimony was not ordered by a judge but advised by attorneys, yes the same firm that advised to seek the modification based on supportive relationship). The outcome is the supportive relationship is proven, and the new lover is paying the bills of the ex-spouse, however the ex-spouse still has a need based on the lifestyle established in the marriage, therefore while a reduction in alimony is forthcoming, it is minimal, and the payer must pay the over $12,000.00 of legal fees the alimony recipient incurred in fighting this action. This situation is only one reason that Alimony Reform is necessary in Florida.
    The names have been omitted, but below you will find the actual court order in this case:
    That the Former Husband, pursuant to a Martial Settlement Agreement entered into by :
    the parties, was obligated to pay $2,400.00 per month to the Former Wife as alimony.
    That the Former Wife has entered into a supportive relationship with MR CO-WORKER.
    That MR CO-WORKER and the Former Wife have been in a relationship for six continuous
    years. MR CO-WORKER and the Former Wife have resided together in the Former Wife’s
    home for the last six to seven months of the relationship. MR CO-WORKER moved into the
    Former Wife’s home once the Former Wife’s children were emancipated. Family and
    friends of the Former Wife and MR CO-WORKER perceive the pair as a couple. The Former
    Wife and MR CO-WORKER are both employed at the same school and their workplace
    accepts their relationship. MR CO-WORKER and the Former Wife exchange gifts on their
    anniversary, birthdays and on Christmas. The Former Wife is MR CO-WORKER’s emergency
    contact at work.
    The relationship between the Former Wife and MR CO-WORKER is permanent in nature as
    was evidenced by:
    a. MR CO-WORKER changing his address on his Florida Driver’ s License and Vehicle
    Registration to that of the Former Wife’s home.
    b. MR CO-WORKER entered into a long term legal contract on his home, a ten year
    lease with an option to purchase the property.
    c. MR CO-WORKER placed the cable utility account in his name.
    d. MR CO-WORKER brought to the Former Wife’s home his furniture, furnishing ,
    clothes and tools.
    e. MR CO-WORKER pay substantial sums toward the household including the mortgage
    on the Former Wife’s home, electric, water and food for the household.
    f. MR CO-WORKER performs services for the home including yard work and laundry.
    g.MR CO-WORKER testified that he intends to stay in the Former Wife’s home.
    The Former Husband satisfied his burden to prove that the Former Wife is in a supportive
    relationship and such constitutes a substantial change in circumstances. The burden of
    establishing an ongoing need shifted to the Former Wife pursuant to Baumann y
    Baumann 22 So.3d 719 (Fla. 2g” DCA 2009).
    The Former Wife is employed as an attendance secretary and also works with the YMCA
    before and after school. The Former Wife’s second.job is an extension of her work day.
    The Former Wife is not working nights or weekends or summers.
    7. The Former Husband requested the court not consider the wife’s credit card payments or
    additional pet expenses that were incurred after the dissolution of marriage. The court
    declines to extend credit to the Former Husband for these amounts because the Former
    Wife had credit card debt and pets during the marriage which and was part of the
    standard of living during the marriage.
    8. The Former Wife’s total net income from both of her jobs is $1,659.18.
    9. The Former Wife’s Total expenses as outlined in her financial affidavit and testimony
    was $5,900.00.
    10. The Former Wife receives $2,694.29 from the supportive relationship with MR CO-WORKER,
    11. That the Former Wife’s continued need is $1,547.53.
    12. That the Former Wife has a need for attorney fees to be paid and the Former Husband has
    the ability to pay attorney fees of the Former Wife.
    13. That the parties stipulated to the reasonable hourly rate of the Former Wife’ s counsel at
    $250.00 per hour.
    14. That the court reviewed the Attorney Fee Affidavit filed by counsel for the Former Wife
    along with the billing records of the Former Wife’s attorney fees which were reasonable
    and necessary total $12,186.80.
    15. That the Former Wife’s costs of litigation are $525.75.
    THEREFORE it is hereby,
    ORDERED AND ADJUDGED as follows,
    16. That the Former Husband’s alimony obligation to the Former Wife shall be $1,547.53 per
    month nunc pro tune to October 7, 2011. That due to the discrepancies in the months in
    which certain contributions wére made by MR CO-WORKER, the modified alimony
    obligation shall not be retroactive and all other terms and conditions in the Marital
    Settlement Agreement pertaining to alimony not altered by this order shall remain in full
    force and effect.
    17. That the Former Husband shall pay to the Former Wife’s attorney the sum of $12,712.55
    within 45 days of this order. That the Former Husband shall have no further obligation
    for attorneys fees associated with the issues or subject matter raised in the Former
    Husband’s Amended Supplemental Petition for Modification or the Wife’s Supplemental
    Counter-Petition for Modification.
    18. That the parties stipulated that the Former Wife owes to the Former Husband overpaid
    child support and the parties agree that the amount payable from the Former Wife to the
    Former Husband shall be reserved upon. In the event the parties cannot reach an
    agreement as to the amount of child support due back to the Former Husband or the
    method of repayment of the amount the court reserves jurisdiction to resolve these issues.
    19. That the parties agreed that the Former Husband’s obligation to maintain a life insurance
    policy as security for his alimony obligation shall be modified to require only a benefit to
    the Former Wife in the amount of $371,000.00 which was calculated by multiplying the
    monthly alimony amount by twelve months and then multiplying that amount by twenty
    years. All other terms related to the alimony life insurance security obligation as outlined
    in the Marital Settlement Agreement shall remain, in full force and effect.

    Thank you for putting the issue out there for the public to see! Alimony Reform is necessary, on so many levels. It is horrible that the stories only portray the poor abandoned ex-wife, when the truth of the matter is that the ex-husbands are often the victim of foul play by their ex-wives. These poor men are cheated on, lied to, and then ordered to continue to support their previous spouses in the same manner that they did while married and believing that they were loyal and loving. I often wonder why the ex-wife is not ordered to continue to do the laundry, clean the house, make the meals and do the shopping if they are still able to receive the same payment through their alimony.

    • Thank you for your long and detailed comments. It’s a complex issue. I’m not sure we can ever change the law enough to have 100% fairness on both sides of the issue.

      We definitely need more language in the statute discussing supportive relationships. We do not want to leave people vulnerable when they are in the beginning stages of a new relationship, but we should not encourage people in long term relationships not to get married so they continue to collect a check from their former spouse.

      • I think I’ve made it clear that I agree with some alimony reform. However, your post does not reflex the reality of what I see day in and day out as a family law attorney. We shouldn’t throw stay-at-home moms with small children out on the street without affording them, or anyone else, a reasonable transition period. Your comments are exactly the type of comments opponents of alimony reform will seize upon when they point to why Florida’s alimony laws should NOT be changed. They will say alimony reformers don’t care if women end up on public assistance.

        • Dan Walsh says:

          CT…there is nothing wrong with alimony in helping one make the transition to single life…but there is something seriously wrong when it takes decades for such a transition..

          • I agree with you. It doesn’t make sense to award permanent alimony to a healthy, intelligent spouse in their late 30s or early 40s. We should be encouraging a transition not a lifetime of dependence.

            The one of the problems I had with SB 718 was the language making it more difficult to get temporary and other forms of short term alimony. We need to allow people to get back on their feet and transition. Judges should have broad discretion to award transitional alimony.

  • Stuart M Kurtz says:

    Excellent, unbiased synopsis. Permanent alimony is an unquantifiable, punitive, cookie cutter “solution” that is totally over-used by judges. Judges should be forced to explain all alimony rulings and they should all have end dates. In a society where over 70% of all marriages have two earners, how can we have a cookie cutter law in use that favors the 28% of marriages that are the traditional 1 earner model? I commend the alimony reformers for realizing that this is about the future. I would never recommend my children marrying in a state with permanent alimony. It punishes success, has no basis and is unquantifiable.

  • Rebecca says:

    Alimony should transition someone into a life of independence, not provide permanent welfare at the expense of someone who must work thru retirement to pay it.

    I read from some misguided soul that alimony is to right a wrong. In a no-fault divorce no one is wrong. The person who cheated can also benefit from permant alimony which is ridiculous to be rewarded for that. Make alimony awards based on guidelines and only deviate from the guidelines if there truly was fault or in cases of disability.

    Many other states have guidelines so why are Florida recipients treated different?

  • Mike McAuliffe says:

    A couple of points
    The 2014 legislation is “Pro Family”, “Pro-Woman”, and is Gender Neutral. Given the current demographics trends, it is in the best interest of woman, and woman’s organizations, to support Alimony reform. The proposed legislation will protect woman from the same abuses men have suffered for years under the current laws. Reform will NOT adversely affect those in need of ongoing support, but focuses on reforming the abuses that are rampant in the current system.

    The proposed legislation brings common sense into a broken Family law system in dire need of reform. It allows spouses to move on with their lives and prevents abuses that keep families perpetually litigating, and financially entangled.

  • Nannette says:

    I support to end Permanent Alimony that exceeds the length of the marriage in long term marriages, mid length should not be no longer than half of the marriage and totally support retirement for the payer/payee at that time Alimony should terminate.

  • Kathi Bender says:

    As a widow who was a stay at home mother and managed to re-educate herself at the age of 42 and bring up two young children after my husband’s passing, I find it insulting to assume a woman cannot be more than a homemaker the rest of their lives and expect financial support as a result of a failed relationship. It fosters hate, endorses dependency and punishes a higher income earner for life. Entitlement is a royal term. We entitle people because they do not earn for themselves and according to the law, are not expected to. Ever.

    • kathy Loftus says:

      Good for you girl! My Mom divorced when I was 13, she had 3 children, worked her butt off and NEVER mentioned alimony. She did get support for us which she should have. I totally agree with you that it makes women look like idiots that they cannot go to school or work if divorced?! Praise the Lord there are women like you and my Mom out there.

  • Terrance Power says:

    Fortunately, the decision on Alimony Reform is up to the Florida Legislators and Governor Scott, not people who earn their living milking a broken system for their own financial gain like Mr. Reiss.

    I’ve never made a penny off of the divorce laws in Florida. I never will. The legislation that we will propose will do nothing to impact my own particular divorce. I don’t get paid a penny to do the work that I do for this effort. I’m in this fight because it’s the right thing to do.

    And I’m not going to make anyone have go through what I had to go through in family court ever again (just google “the divorce from hell” and you’ll see my story).

    The horror stories of abuse coming out of Family Court on a daily basis are unbelievable and continue unchecked. We’re going to fix this….sooner than later. In spite of people who have their own financial interests that they want to protect.

    Terrance Power
    Family Law Reform

    • I read your story. It’s unfortunate when some members of the family law bar focus on excessive litigation and polarizing emotions rather than focusing on solutions. Fortunately, your case is the exception rather than the rule in the vast majority of family law cases.

      • Terrance Power says:

        My case was the exception in many ways, but in other ways not so much.

        Children were used as bargaining chips to get money out of me, I was threatened with incarceration several times unless I agreed to an outrageous marriage settlement agreement, and a predatory attorney gleefully feasted upon assets that I had taken a lifetime to accumulate for his own benefit.

        This simply can not be allowed to happen in Florida any longer.

        The people who make a great living or who directly benefit from the system don’t want anything to change.

        I imagine the plantation owners didn’t like the idea of freeing the slaves very much either, but it was the right thing to do.

        We’re going to fix things in Florida in 2014.

        • I have certainly seen abuses by unscrupulous family law attorney in my area, but this is a small percentage of the total. One or two percent, if I were to guess. Most of JAX’s family law practitioners are ethical and do the right thing for their clients.

          With regards to children (not your children, because each case is different), I disagree with last year’s proposed presumption of 50/50 time-sharing. 50/50 time-sharing requires both parents to live in close proximity, take a proactive role in their child(ren)’s development and engage in a high level of cooperation with the other parent. In Jacksonville, most family law judges will not accept a 50/50 time-sharing proposal, even in the context of uncontested divorce, until the parties have explained the logistics of the arrangement.
          It’s not uncommon for one parent to push for 50/50 time-sharing to reduce child support, then following the entry of the final judgment, shift all of the child care responsibility back to the other parent.

          • Terrance Power says:

            Well, if I agreed with your assumption that there were only 1-2% of all family law attorney being unscrupulous (I don’t….I think it’s closer to 20%), and considering that there are around 80,000 divorces each year in Florida, that means that somewhere between 800 and 1,600 families fall victim to these predators each year.

            They destroy people and use children for profit. Their own profit.

            I think that amount of abuse warrants strict guidelines (similar to how child support worksheets) to prevent this from happening in the future.

          • There isn’t good data on the scope of the problem. At the last summit in Orlando, representatives from FAR stated that we need to collect data to quantify the problem.

            My limited view from a small family law practice in Jacksonville isn’t representative of the entire state. I’ve only seen the type of abuses that you endured in a few cases; mostly from people that have come to me for post-judgment matters, after the damage has been done.

  • Cindy Cummings says:

    From what I have just read alimony reform isn’t about what is right for the people in these cases, it is political. What is right for the Republicans or the Democrates.
    When are the elected officals going to wake up and realize that they need to make the right decision based on the majority of people wishing the change. I believe in right and wrong and it is wrong to expect anyone to suck off a person that they divorced and don’t want anything to do with any more.

    • Politics is the reality of law making in the United States and Florida, and has been since the founding of our Republic and State. If you want to change the law(s), you must deal with the political process. Otherwise, the law(s) related to alimony will remain unchanged.

  • peter posk says:

    We all accept that when you become an adult you are expected to move out of your parents home and become self sufficient. Alimony for a transition period is logical; permanent alimony is not. How can one move on with his/her life, while being permanently financially tethered to another? Some believe one is permanently “entitled” to money because for a period of his/her adult life they enjoyed a certain lifestyle. One proposal on the table would have allowed for 8.5 years of alimony for a 17 year marriage. Is that really that draconian? Regarding the retroactive clause…”permanent” or “not permanent” is a function of the duration of the marriage and is not part of the alimony payment amount discussion. The amount of alimony paid is a function primarily of respective incomes. To pass this law, and not make it retroactive, is unfair, and simply a means for a politician to capture more votes. If that’s the case, it seems we are now in the business of passing laws which apply only to segments of the population.



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