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Alimony Overhaul Bill Fails

May 4, 2015

A bill that would have made significant changes to Florida’s alimony system was killed recently. The bill passed in the House, but the House’s version never reached a vote in the Senate. The House adjourned three days early, and the Senate did not revisit the issue after that time.

The Bill

House Bill 943 would have had several important effects on alimony in Florida. One key change would have been the elimination of lifetime alimony. The bill would also have set mathematical formulas, based on the length of the marriage and the income of the spouses, for determining the amount and duration of alimony. It would have capped the maximum amount of alimony payments plus child support at 55 percent of the payer’s income, and would have expanded the ability to modify alimony.

Time-Sharing Provision

The bill brought together lawmakers and supporters from both sides of the issue. But a controversy involving a provision governing time-sharing for minor children meant that the bill failed to pass.

Current Florida law provides that a child’s best interests are the main consideration when determining parental responsibility, parenting plans, and time-sharing. The child’s best interests are determined by examining certain listed factors, such as each parent’s capacity to care for the child, the goal of maintaining a stable home environment for the child, the geographic location of each parent’s home, and the child’s preferences.

The House version of the bill added a policy statement that a child’s interests are usually best served by having both parents involved in his or her life. It would have mandated that there be no presumption in favor of either parent for time-sharing, since it is best to have children spend as much time as possible with both parents. The Senate version would have established a presumption that a child’s interests are best served by approximately equal time-sharing.

The Controversy

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, pushed for the 50/50 time-sharing provision. Since the provision did not make its way into the House bill, Lee maintained that the House’s version did not go far enough. House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, sponsored a 2013 bill that was vetoed because of a similar provision, and worked for eight months on this bill.

Workman complained that Lee refused to negotiate about the time-sharing provision because of a personal grudge against the judge in his own divorce case, from fifteen years ago, which Lee denied. Lee said that the House adjourned before he could work out his problems with the child-sharing rules in the bill. He asserted that Workman promised the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar that there would not be any amendments to the bill that the Section did not approve, and that his inability to keep this promise killed the bill, which Workman denies. Workman accused Lee of using his role as budget chief as “extortion” to get the child-sharing provision into the Senate bill, and criticized him for not proposing the amendment as a standalone bill.

Divorce is an emotionally stressful time in anyone’s life, and that stress is only complicated by the financial issues that accompany divorce. If you are considering a divorce, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.

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