House clears alimony proposal

Feb 24, 2012

Cheating spouses could soon get a break in divorce hearings. A bill that would change the way adultery can be used to award alimony payments has cleared the House. Lynn Hatter reports it’s a part of a larger bill that seeks to scale back how the courts award alimony payments in marriage dissolution cases.

Divorces can get messy, especially when it’s because of cheating.  In many of those cases, the cheater ends up having to pay his spouse alimony. And under Florida law—that alimony can be permanent. But a bill by Representative Ritch Workman, is trying to change that.

 “Adultery has been considered in alimony. But that’s ironic in a state that is a no-fault divorce state. So this this clarifies what I’ve been told this section is used for. Well, if one spouse depletes marital assets because of an affair—that has to be considered. And this bill clarifies that.” 

But Workman’s bill isn’t just for cheaters. It seeks to overhaul the entire system of alimony payments regardless of the reason. The Melbourne Republican’s bill sets limits on the duration of payments to spouses, and also calls on judges to take into account the financial status of both partners. Workman says the move is meant to put some fairness into the system.

 “Alimony is good. This is not an anti-alimony bill, an anti-spouse bill or an anti-woman bill. This is a bill that simply clarifies the law and codifies the law to make sure alimony is fair to all involved.” 

And Gordon Finley, a retired university psychology professor, current alimony payee, and member of the group Floridians for Alimony Reform, says the issue of fairness is the prime motivator for the bill.

 “I’m a 72-year-old retiree with two, 20-something daughters who need continuing financial support for healthcare and education. However, I am required to support a former wife who has refused to work for the past quarter-century.”

Finley says he’s been paying alimony to his ex-wife for more than 25 years. And those payments cut in to what he’s able to offer to help his daughters. But on the House floor, lawmakers had plenty of questions about whether it’s time to do away with the state’s permanent alimony system, which critics say is antiquated. Democratic Representative Elaine Schwartz raised questions about including relationship status in alimony payments.

 “The person who’s paying the alimony…you don’t want their significant other’s income to be used in calculating how much they have. And yet, how can you justify wanting to include the supportive relationship of the person receiving the alimony? 

Workman says it’s unfair to allow the new relationship to pay for the old one.

His proposal also calls for an alimony review once the payee retires, and retroactively change payments which could leave the ex-spouse owing money back.  Rep. Workman's House Bill 549 cleared the chamber on an 83-30 vote. It now goes to the Senate.