Bill To Change Florida's Alimony System Heads To House Floor
Lawmakers are again considering a proposal to change how alimony and child sharing is handled in divorce cases. Of the many changes included in the measure, one would eliminate permanent alimony unless both parties agree to it. Deborah Shultz is a 68-year-old physician who says she pays permanent alimony to her ex-husband.
"I was married for 17 years to a man who quit working the minute we were married. I supported about seven different businesses that he ran into the ground. He abused drugs and alcohol. And he was abusive to me and our two children," Shultz says.
Shultz says she was ordered by the court to pay her ex-husband $5,250 per month for the rest of her life.
"I cannot retire because I have alimony payments to pay every 30 days," Shultz says.
House Bill 1559 would also allow payments to end when the person providing the alimony reaches full retirement age as determined by the U.S. Social Security Administration—with exceptions. Under existing case law, someone paying alimony can apply to have their alimony adjusted or terminated upon reaching the normal retirement age for their job or profession.
Another change relates to parenting time with children. The proposed bill would create a presumption that 50/50 time-sharing of children would be in the child's best interest—meaning both parents would have equal time with their child. Right now, the existing law requires the court to evaluate several different factors in determining an appropriate parenting plan. Rep. Emily Slosberg (D-Delray Beach) questioned the change during a meeting on the bill:
"So, under your bill, if there is hypothetically one parent who is drug-addicted and another parent who has really been caring for the child—under your bill, this would create a presumption that 50/50 is in the best interest in the child."
"Absolutely not," bill sponsor Miami Republican Rep. Anthony Rodriguez (R-Miami) said in response. "I mean, you walk into the courtroom, and there is a presumption of 50/50 time-sharing, but, in that scenario, specifically in the scenario representative, it is obvious that the judge would not grant 50/50 time-sharing to a drug-addicted parent."
Rodriguez says lawyers weaponize children and time-sharing to grant more alimony to their clients.
“There is a clear nexus between alimony and time-sharing, and we believe that when you walk into the courtroom, the focus of the divorce should be the children. And there should be an equal time-sharing of such, and if for whatever reason that should not be the case, then the judge can decide that," Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez says his bill allows for the presumption of 50/50 time-sharing to be rebutted by a judge. Philip Schipani is a family law attorney who represents clients who have special needs children. He says judges don't always have a full understanding of a family's situation. He worries the presumption created under Rodriguez's bill will put an extra burden on his clients.
"And right now, I have a pending case—a child with special needs—this presumption if they put a 50/50—the father hasn't seen the child for four years. Not only [does] the child [have] severe special needs, the husband's a recovering drug addict who hasn't seen the child in years. So, then you slap this presumption on, and then I have an extra burden to overcome. Not only do I have to explain the child's condition, explain the drug addiction, I have to overcome this presumption as well," Schipani says.
The proposal would also place caps on other forms of alimony, such as rehabilitative and durational. Rehabilitative is used to help the receiving party cover the costs of getting skills or education to financially support themself after the divorce. Under the bill, it would be capped to five years. Durational alimony does not exceed the length of the marriage, but under the proposal, it would not exceed half the length of the marriage with exceptions. The bill passed its last committee stop and is now heading to the House floor for a vote.