Family Law Lawyer: Veto New Alimony Bill!

(Update: Gov. Rick Scott listened to many in the public and vetoed the alimony bill on May 1. This column was posted on April 26.)

 

BY ANDREA GUNDERSEN

 

Florida lawmakers have recently sent a bill to Governor Rick Scott that will dramatically alter the state’s alimony law eliminating permanent alimony and unfairly rebalancing the alimony scales relieving higher income earning spouses from long-term obligations to a former spouse.  This rebalancing will severely impact predominantly women, who are lower earning spouses and stay-at-home parents.  Both women and men should demand the Governor veto this bill.

The bill will end permanent alimony for the future, with the ability to reach back and end it retroactively as well.   In addition to changing the alimony laws, the bill also adds language to the existing statute making 50/50 equal timesharing of children a mandatory presumption that it is in the “best interest of the child”.     What seems most peculiar is the record speed in which the bill sailed through the Legislature, without having gathered sufficient information on individual impact on women, children and families that was not thoroughly considered in committee.  There was little notice or opportunity for citizens to testify as to the impact this legislation could have on families and children.

Another striking element of the proposed bill is the fact that unlike other provisions within the family law statute governing modification of support, that would otherwise require a “substantial change in circumstance” to modify, this proposed legislation makes the amendments to law, in and of itself, the substantial change in circumstance necessary to file for a modification.    What message does this send to those people who entered into marital settlement agreements over the years during their emotional and stressful dissolution proceedings and settled on terms within the “contract” that now can be modified for no other reason but for the change in the law?    What kind of chilling effect will this have on the ability to enter into contractual agreements in the future that could be reversed, based solely on some future change in the law?

This bill gives no notice or protection of any kind to those individuals who had relied on the existing law, at the time of their dissolution, and have been dependent on, and built their life around, the support that had been mutually agreed upon at the time of the dissolution.  What is to become of these individuals, which statistically are predominantly women, who have relied on this additional support for years and now, without any warning or notice to them, a change in the law, may send them back to court to strip them of the support that they are in need of and that had been bargained for years before?   Will this proposed change in the law ultimately create a new class of individuals in need of or eligible for the variety of public assistance programs for families and children?  And how will an already congested family court system deal with the increased caseload, created by the volume of modifications filed based on the change in the law?

One more disturbing element of the proposed bill is the mandatory presumptive equal timesharing that the proposed amendment establishes as the “best interest of the child”.   Without the benefit of a thorough study of the issue, or consideration of the physical or psychological developmental stages of the children, the proposed bill mandates 50/50 timesharing as in the “best interest of the children”, removing the discretion of the court to determine the “best interest” based on evidence.

Does the Legislature actually believe that a six-month-old child is best off spending 50% of the time away from a mother who is breast feeding?   The prevailing studies and literature developed by mental health professionals, which the Florida Family Law Section has relied upon for years, has determined that it is NOT in the best interests of children to have a “presumption” of any particular timesharing schedule as is evident in the present law and in its application.  Children and families cannot be put into a “cookie cutter” mold that mandates 50/50 timesharing as “in the best interest” without allowing the courts, on a case-by-case basis, to consider actual factors in determining what is in the best interest of the children.

What has been left unspoken in the discussion about the proposed 50/50 timesharing is the impact this mandate will have on child support.  The current child support law, as amended in 2010, dramatically linked each overnight of timesharing with a dollar value in child support.  To mandate 50/50 timesharing would dramatically reduce and in some cases eradicate any child support being paid.  And once the child support is calculated, based on the 50/50 timesharing, what happens when one parent or the other, does not adhere to the 50/50 timesharing mandated by the proposed bill, yet is paying the child support as if they are?    Is this amendment to the law about timesharing or about child support, only time will tell.  It will sure require thousands of hours of precious court time to continually untangle the mess this bill will create.

In the end, SB718 poses more questions than answers as to its long-term impact.

It doesn’t appear that there is enough information gathered for Governor Rick Scott to make an informed decision as to the impact this proposed legislation would have on women, men, families, children, social program funding and the courts and for that reason, it does not appear ripe for enacting and Gov. Scott should veto the bill.

 

(Andrea R. Gundersen is an AV rated Marital & Family Law attorney and a Certified Family Mediator with more than 20 years experience.  She has an office in Fort Lauderdale.)



21 Responses to “Family Law Lawyer: Veto New Alimony Bill!”

  1. Kevin says:

    In other words, this bill is going to cut down on the author’s business.

  2. weak says:

    Pretty weak argument against a pretty fair piece of legislation. Its pretty hard to argue that one parent should have more rights to a child than another, given no issues of abuse. Frankly, the only situation that you can give is highly temporary in nature and many women who breastfeed use bottles of pumped milk, which the husband could keep frozen to accommodate the time share during that time.

  3. Sam The Sham says:

    I’m still working on my first wife, so this does not affect me but I have seen through several friends and family how the old law was extremely biased toward the woman’s benefit.

    This law seems overdue. What is unfair about 50/50?

  4. Git R Done says:

    This law needs to be Vetoed, seriously!!!

  5. tamaracguy says:

    I have seen a few men struggle to pay alimony and child support, while the ex-wife is living with a more wealthy man. She won’t re-marry so she gets to keep her alimony checks, just to stick it to their ex-husband. I say permenant alimony is unfair!

  6. Abandoned says:

    I was a stay at home Mom whose wealthy husband left for his young secretary. I was left with nothing. He even is late on his child support. I have only survived on alimony, which he owes after 20yearse being married and often is late in paying too. To make it harder for women like me is wrong. Veto the bill.

  7. Ben Graber says:

    The author is “dead on”, this bill harms women and children to benefit deadbeat dads, baby dads,and scammers who use women and neglect their kids. Responsible males are not impacted by these laws which are designed to force responsibility of these wandering fathers who only consider their own self interests. The Governor should support women and children and responsible parenting by his veto of this bad bill. It will truly help his reelection next year with a majority of voters. unfortunately, If he allows this to become law, he will seal his negative electoral fate.

  8. Floridan says:

    I would favor this legislation if there was an accompanying bill that would impose more stringent penalties against ex-husbands who fail to pay alimony and deadbeat dads who skip out on child support.

    There are many more ex-wives who are in finacial hardship because they are not getting child support than there are ex-husbands who are unjustly suffering under alimony decrees.

  9. Ha Ha Ha says:

    http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-rick-scott-please-sign-florida-s-alimony-reform-bill-when-it-comes-to-you-for-your-signature

         Senate Bill 718 and House Bill 231 will finally bring structure and order to our broken and outdated permanent alimony laws.

         For the first time ever, the parties to a divorce will have formal guidelines (much like how Child Support is efficiently handled in Florida) that will outline the amount and duration of alimony awards. The bills also provide for significant judicial discretion to allow our Judges to address those unique situations that require an “outside the norm” solution.

  10. justme says:

    I am a woman, I got divorced and I went back to work! Permanent alimony is a joke! You can only be a victim for so long. Yes, you deserve something, but you can also get retrained or just go back to your occupation. I am for this bill!

  11. Tamaracguy says:

    Graber will save us all from having to pay child support! Explain what you do for the other readers Ben

  12. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Oh Gov.Scott, my bald headed goober governor never ,never screw around w/ a lady’s money. You guys got to pay up-too bad. These woman give you their lifes and what do you do- you cheat on them. Your lucky its just money because I would have cut your balls off. Don’t worry I got your backs gals(and how)……

  13. Amy says:

    Abandoned: You mean you have been divorced for 20 years and in all that time you have done nothing to support yourself???? You set the women’s movement back 50 years!

  14. Chaz Stevens, Malcontent says:

    To: Shitty Activist

    When you have “a woman’s back,” why do I feel the need to reach for the Purel?

  15. Shut Up Amy says:

    Amy, you idiot, she said she was married for twenty years, not that she has been single for twenty years. You are the one setting the women’s movement back 50 years with your snotty remark!

  16. truth says:

    The governor vetoed the bill.

  17. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Oh you bet he vetoed this garbage. . And don’t forget to pay the lady @ the door…..

  18. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Governor’s veto was due to its retroactivity:

    http://miamiherald.typepad.com/files/alimony-veto.pdf

    “I have concluded that I cannot support this legislation because it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”

  19. yes!!!! says:

    Thank God this bill was vetoed!!! Not only for being in favor of keeping alimony but for the ladies that take care of their children and home. Also,for the ridiculous assumption there should automatically be a 50/50 split in custody. Men just want a break in child support so “their money” doesn’t go to the ex. It’s a control game you stupid men play and it only hurts the children. These men need to grow up.

  20. yes!!!! says:

    I like Mr. Robert Walsh the activist!

  21. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Thank you, last blogger. I mean really. Also to point out if you husbands didn’t cheat on your wifes you would not be dishing out all this loot(too bad). And to the mistress, you will be next trust me. Once a pig, always a pig.

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