Alimony Reform in Florida
February 16, 2015
A new bill will be considered by Florida lawmakers that would modify the state’s alimony framework, most notably by eliminating lifetime alimony. The details of the bill have not been finalized. Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, plans to sponsor the bill in the legislative session beginning March 3rd. Groups on both sides of the issue seem to be supporting this latest effort for reform. In 2013, the Florida Bar Family Law Section lobbied against the changes, but now, Tom Sasser, former chair of the Family Law Section, has stated his support for the proposal.
A major reform that would be created by the new bill is the elimination of lifetime alimony. Currently, Florida law provides for permanent periodic alimony, which typically only ends if the recipient spouse dies or remarries. It is, however, possible to modify permanent alimony if an unexpected substantial change in circumstance occurs that affects the payer’s ability to pay. Florida is one of the last states to allow for lifetime alimony, a legal remnant of a time in which women did not generally work outside the home. The new bill would require that all alimony awards specify an end date.
The Florida legislature attempted to eliminate lifetime alimony two years ago. Governor Rick Scott vetoed the bill because of a clause applying the provisions of the bill retroactively. This clause could have eliminated alimony benefits for those who were already receiving them. The new bill does not include that provision. However, modifications to existing alimony would be determined under the new bill’s provisions.
The new bill would limit judges’ discretion in determining how much alimony to award. Currently, judges consider a list of factors when determining alimony amounts. However, after considering these factors, judges have broad discretion as to how much alimony is appropriate to award. Under the new system, judges would be required to consider certain factors, such as the length of the marriage and the income of the spouses, and then consult guidelines instructing them how much alimony to award. The judges’ discretion would be limited by a “child-support-esque” formula. Judges could, however, go outside the guidelines in extreme cases.
Another provision for the proposed bill would deal with alimony recipients who lie about cohabitation. Current law provides that alimony may be reduced or eliminated when there is a sudden change in the recipient’s circumstances affecting that spouse’s need for alimony. This includes situations in which the recipient begins a supportive cohabitation relationship with another person. However, in the event of a dispute as to whether a supportive relationship exists, there is no provision compelling the recipient spouse to return alimony payments made while the issue made its way through the court system. The new bill would force recipients to return any alimony paid after being in a supportive relationship and to pay attorneys’ fees.
Other terms of the bill would prevent a recipient spouse from requesting an increase in alimony if his or her former spouse got a raise. It would also require that alimony payments be reduced once the payer spouse reached sixty two. This would ensure that payers would not be prevented from retiring because of having to pay alimony.