Governor Rick Scott has vetoed a bill that would have overhauled divorce negotiations in the state. The contentious measure would’ve ended permanent alimony and implemented a formula for calculating payments. Under the bill, courts would start custody talks with the ‘premise’ that a 50-50 split between parents is in the best interest of the child. But Scott disagrees with the provision.
"This bill has the potential to upend that policy in favor of putting the wants of a parent before the child's best interest," Scott said in a veto letter released Friday.
Former Circuit Judge Robert Doyle agrees with him.
“And it was all ‘me, me, me, me’. And that’s what this bill is. It is a ‘me’ bill for parents. It is not a bill for children,” Doyle says.
Heartbreak and frustration on both sides of the issue spurred protestors to hold dueling rallies at the capitol this week. People for and against the bill crowded into a lobby outside the governor’s office, carrying signs, some children, and plenty of baggage. Generally, breadwinners, who are often male, pay alimony, while recipients, often female, get primary custody. The heated debate mostly falls along the same lines.
Edward Young is a divorced father of two, and he thinks his family would be better off if he had equal custody.
“Because our children need an equilibrium, they need a balance in their life when it comes to being parented,” he said.
Meanwhile, Camille Fiveash says she stayed in an abusive marriage to shield her kids.
“I stayed those years to protect my children, having fear that maybe he would get partial custody. I knew that when they were in my care that I could protect them. So for thirty years I endured,” she said.
Retired Judge Robert Doyle worries the half and half provision would have put families in danger.
“What would be a rational basis for saying that batterer over there is entitled to a premise of equal time sharing. It’s gonna put these parents in contact. And the single-most dangerous times for domestic violence victims during separation is when they’re exchanging kids for visitation,” he said.
Doyle, and Governor Scott, may reject the shared custody provision, but family law attorney Adam Bird says the courts are already moving in that direction.
“And in my experience, in all honesty, especially over the last five years, probably plus, courts have really started there anyway. Most of the time that I’m in front of a judge they’re looking to find as equitable a time-sharing as they can for the children, as long as you have two biological parents that are both good parents that are interested in being involved in the child’s life,” he said.
But Bird believes there is still room for special cases.
“And the court still has discretion to address specific facts and put in place plans that are the best interest of the child and best for the family. Even if that means there’s no visitation because of domestic violence or criminal history or substance abuse. I still think that those protections are in place and I still think our judges and our judiciary will apply it as necessary,” he said.
Governor Scott vetoed a similar bill in 2013, because of concerns about retroactivity, and more costly litigation. Despite the veto, bill sponsors remain hopeful for future reforms.