Alimony Gets Child Custody Amendment And Heads To Senate Floor

Mar 1, 2016

Credit umjanedoan / flickr.com

Divorce, and the resulting fallout from the breakup of a family, generates a lot of conversation in the Florida legislature. And for the past several years, issues like alimony, child support and custody have brought droves of people to the state capitol. Now a massive family law proposal is heading to the Senate floor.

Florida’s debate over alimony has often skewed heavily toward men—who tend to be on the paying end of the scale. But increasingly, women are speaking up too. Natalie Sohn pays alimony. And she says as more women get into higher paying fields, more will end up paying too, 

“It wasn’t fair," she said. "I won’t be able to retire, I have a very high amount because they based it on my highest year ever. Medicine has changed. I’m an OBGYN. I work hard, about 50-60 hours a week. I’m turning 50 this year. Can I do this when I’m 65, or 70? I can’t.” 

Most alimony payers are still men. The recipients, are largely women. Some haven’t worked in years in order to be stay-at-home moms. And that’s not an easy job.

“Women who devote their entire lives to their husbands and children, will be let destitute when they turn 65 or whatever age it is their alimony ends under this system," said retired circuit judge Bob Doyle.

The Florida Senate has added a controversial 50-50 custody split amendment to an already contentious alimony overhaul measure that eliminates permanent spousal support in the future. Doyle believes the custody plan in the bill will also generate more lawsuits, and he argues splitting time in this manner is destabilizing.

“Does it mean spending a week at a time, a month at a time, weeks at a time? What does it really mean? Children need stability. And stability is nowhere to be found in this arrangement," he said.

The alimony bill sets out a formula for awarding alimony based on gross income, and length of marriage. Republican Representative Tom Lee’s custody-sharing amendment outlines a 50-50 split if possible.

It’s not the first time the legislature has tried to pass such proposals. Lee’s custody split arrangement plan failed last year. A few years ago, Governor Rick Scott vetoed an alimony reform bill that was retroactive. That’s not in this proposal. Alan Frisher, President of the advocacy group Family Law Reform, has pushed for the changes. He helped write the bill.

“Ask a divorced person how they felt when treated like a common criminal in today’s court just for marrying the wrong person," said Frischer. "Ask a permanent alimony payer how they feel to be tied forever to the one person they want to get away from, and move on with their lives.”

Barbara DeVane with the National Organization for Women, organized the effort to get the first alimony bill vetoed. And she says she's gearing up to do it again if the measure passes. 

"I am very much for women being independent. But I’m also for women having a choice. Any women getting married these days, better think twice before they decide to stay home and have children and their husband decides to trade them in for another model.”

The debate is now heading to the floors of the House and Senate. The House version of the bill does not include the child custody issue.