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Florida lawmakers try again to get alimony changes across the finish line

Finances in divorce concept. Wife and husband cannot make a settlement, and they're holding a piggy bank sitting at table looking at each other with hatred.
Proposed legislation specifies how long and how much alimony judges can award. It also removes a retroactive component that has previously been a sticking point.

The Florida Legislature has tried for years to make changes to alimony laws.

In the last decade, lawmakers have sent legislation to the governor three times, and it was vetoed all three times. Now they’re trying again, with one notable change involving retroactivity.

“It eliminates the permanent alimony in Florida and replaces it with the durational alimony, which is awarded for a set period of time,” said Rep. John Paul Temple, R-Wildwood, explaining the bill he sponsors to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.

The bill specifies how long and how much alimony judges can award. Factors like adultery and the length of the marriage can be considered. Gov. Rick Scott twice vetoed similar legislation, then Governor Ron DeSantis.

“This has been one that has been going on for quite some time," Temple said. "But I am happy to report that both sides that are involved in this, the lawyers and the reform group, agree on every piece that is in this bill.”

Attorney Andrea Reid with the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar says they’ve long fought this legislation over the retroactive component that would have opened up a slew of requests to change old agreements.

“This is a good bill this year," Reid told lawmakers. "This is not unconstitutionally retroactive, and I am proud on behalf of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Florida Bar Family Law Section to support this bill.”

While sponsors say it doesn’t apply to non-modifiable agreements that are already in place, the legislation gives judges leeway in making decisions around alimony awards and modifications -- opening the door to some old agreements being revisited.

“We believe the entire bill is retroactive,” says Jan Killilea of Palm Beach County. She runs the First Wives Advocacy Group, which focuses on Florida alimony and custody laws.

“It really angers a lot of women because they gave up marital assets for alimony. They couldn't afford the house in the Hamptons. They couldn't afford the boat, you know, at the marina," she says. "So they gave up that asset in order to get alimony, and now (lawmakers) want to take that away.”

Under the legislation, the court may reduce or terminate alimony when the person paying has reached normal retirement age as defined by the Social Security Administration.

In addition, the court must reduce or terminate alimony if the recipient is in a supportive relationship with another person not related by blood or marriage. The payor has to prove the relationship existed in the 365 days prior to filing the petition for divorce or filing to modify the agreement.

“Does that mean if somebody was in a relationship with the opposite sex or the same sex that wasn't a family member, and they've had to live above somebody's garage in order to make ends meet during this time of inflation, would that trigger a modification of or end of alimony under the bill as a supportive relationship?" Killilea wonders. "It's very vague and very subjective.”

The biggest issue for Killilea is that the bill does nothing to enforce alimony agreements. She says she is owed more than half a million dollars, but it’s expensive to hire an attorney, so she’s been handling her own legal filings for ten years.

"I have the contempt motions granted to me. I have arrest warrants. I have an income withholding order, but as long as he's willing to stick his nose up at the court, there's nothing I can do about it," she says. "At the end of the day, I say how can we be a state of law and order or rule of law if we can't enforce the laws we already have on the books?”

She says traveling to Tallahassee to testify before lawmakers is a hardship for most of the women in her group due to finances or fear of retaliation.

Supporters say the legislation gives much needed finality to the divorce process. It’s now in House and Senate committees.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.