The regular session of the Florida Legislature convened on March 7, 2017. Once again, alimony reform is high on the list of bills to be considered by both the House and Senate.
Two alimony reform bills, House Bill 283 and Senate Bill 412, have been referred to committee. The focus of the proposed legislation is to attempt to create predictability in the outcome of cases based on the parties’ income, assets, needs, ability to pay and standard of living. Presently, the courts enjoy broad discretion in setting the length of alimony payments and the amount of those payments.
Many forms of alimony exist as a matter of state statute and case law. They include permanent periodic alimony, durational alimony, rehabilitative alimony, bridge-the-gap alimony and nominal alimony. Generally, permanent periodic alimony continues until the recipient spouse either remarries, dies or engages in a supportive relationship. Decades ago this type of alimony made sense because societal pressures were such that a spouse, if divorced, would remarry. Societal norms have dramatically changed. Now couples not only routinely live together, unmarried but they, in many cases, have children while in an unmarried status.
The proposed bills presently pending in the Florida legislature would remove permanent periodic alimony as an option for the courts and replace it with durational alimony. Durational alimony is to be paid over a set period of time, such as: one year, five years or ten years. The proposed legislation would create a formula that would calculate a range of options based on the length of the marriage. A long-term marriage would result in a lengthy duration of payments.
The amount of alimony would also be the subject of a formula based on the payor spouse’s income as compared to the payee spouse’s income. The disparity between the two incomes would be applied to a mathematical formula which would create a narrowed range of payments for the court to consider. Essentially, durational alimony would be the only form of alimony remaining, should the present legislation be passed. Rehabilitative alimony, bridge-the-gap alimony and nominal alimony would no longer exist.
In past years, similar bills to the ones now pending have been passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives only to be vetoed by the governor. This occurred on two prior occasions. The lack of guidance under the present law breeds litigation and tremendous disparity in judicial rulings under the same facts and circumstances driven by a particular judge’s ideology and personal experiences. In order for justice, equity and equality to prevail, the alimony statutes in Chapter 61 must be reformed to reflect the societal norms of our times.