Bill To Do Away With Lifetime Alimony Payments In Florida Clears First House Panel

Jan 22, 2020

Credit Richard Villalon / Adobe stock

Republican state legislators are trying to abolish Florida’s ‘permanent’ alimony system. A bill in both chambers would place caps on the duration of payments, but a Florida Bar section is opposing the changes.

In the House, Rep. Alex Andrade is carrying a bill that would prioritize the short-term “bridge the gap” alimony system in lieu of lifetime payments to an ex-spouse.

“Alimony in the state, currently — Florida is lagging behind nationally,” Andrade told his colleagues. “We’re one of six states that still allows for lifetime alimony. And our statutes allow for a significant amount of judicial discretion, that’s not subject to any stringent appellate review.”

Andrade’s bill passed its first stop Wednesday. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee approved the measure on a party-line vote with Republicans in favor. Andrade said the wide-ranging bill looks to do two main things.

“It seeks to incentivize relationships after a divorce in two ways: One, by not counting the income of an obligor, the person paying alimony,” the Pensacola Republican said. “The income of their new spouse or partner cannot be imputed, it’s their income to increase an alimony payment to a prior spouse. It also includes a 180-day lookback if the obligee, the person receiving alimony payments, has entered into what’s called a dependent relationship.”

The proposal also places caps on the two other forms of alimony in Florida. Rehabilitative alimony, which is meant to be temporary support to help the receiving party get financially stable, would be limited to 5 years. Durational alimony, a more long-term version meant for dependent ex-spouses, would be capped at half the length of the marriage. Another key piece of Andrade’s bill – it frees the party paying alimony payments from doing so when they reach retirement age:

“To allow people, when they reach retirement age, to retire with dignity and not be subject to, potentially, a contempt order and be placed in jail for failing to pay an alimony payment,” Andrade explained.

Michelle Klinger Smith is an attorney who spoke on behalf of the Florida Bar’s Family Law section, which opposes the measure. She points out, despite striking the definition of permanent alimony from statutory language, it still states permanent alimony can still be awarded if agreed upon by both parties.

“Striking the language as to what permanent alimony is will create havoc in the future as to what permanent alimony can be agreed upon,” Klinger Smith argued to the House panel.

Klinger Smith also warned the House panel that capping alimony payments might lead people to try to get money from an ex-spouse in other ways:

“Will this in turn cause those spouses to fight for more assets because they know their alimony is going to be capped?”

The Bar’s Family Law section also opposes a provision of the bill that states a presumption of equal time sharing of minor children after a divorce is in the child’s best interest.

“We are adamantly opposed to 50-50 time sharing, the presumption. Currently there is no presumption for or against,” Klinger Smith said. “We want to keep it that way. Every case is unique.”

Several speakers came to Tallahassee to speak in support of the bill, like Natalie Willis.

“I am a lifetime alimony payer. I divorced 13 years ago over my ex-husband’s refusal to work or take care of the home,” Willis told lawmakers. “I didn’t even know what alimony was until I was forced to pay a large amount, which I wasn’t able to handle. Soon I lost my business, my house, and my car. At my lowest point, I had to borrow money for gas so I could go to work.”

Willis shared her story, which included a detail found in some other speakers’ accounts as well – her ex-spouse intentionally forewent income in order to keep getting alimony payments.

“I’ve never been anti-alimony. I wanted to help my ex-husband. I hoped that we could remained friendly to each other, because we once were in love and we have three children,” Willis said, visibly emotional at the dais. "But for the past 13 years, my ex has remained purposefully unemployed.”

An identical bill in the Senate, carried by Republican Kelli Stargel, is waiting for its first hearing.