Florida Representative Colleen Burton has fired the first salvo in this year’s attempts to change the state’s alimony laws. In filing HB 943 on Monday, the Lakeland Republican will be working with Republican Senator Kelli Stargel toward passage of this year’s alimony reform legislation.
The bill goes a long way toward changing the current system while at the same time works to appease those who have been against reform by being more fair and balanced.
The bill calls for the following:
- Specifies that courts may not use certain presumptive alimony guidelines in calculating alimony pending litigation (temporary alimony).
- Eliminates permanent alimony and provides for determination of presumptive alimony range and duration range.
- Provides presumptions concerning amount and length of alimony awards depending on duration of marriages.
- Provides for imputation of income in certain circumstances.
- Specifies that combined award of alimony and child support may not constitute more than a specified percentage of a payor’s net income.
- Provides that a party may pursue immediate modification of alimony in certain circumstances.
- Revises factors to be considered in determining whether an existing alimony award should be reduced or terminated because of an alleged supportive relationship, including eliminating proof of cohabitation.
- Allows payors to retire and requires courts to modify or terminate alimony at retirement age.
- Specifies factors to be considered in determining whether to modify or terminate an award based on substantial change in circumstance.
- Provides for motions to advance trial of certain if specified period has passed since initial service on respondent.
The legislation works to create increased predictability and certainty and goes a long way to prevent attempts to “game the system.” For example, the cohabitation language in this bill is a lot clearer. It essentially says the alimony payor no longer has to prove that his or her spouse is in a cohabitation arrangement. This is important for many spouses who have continued to pay alimony to their ex-spouse, even though he or she is in a supportive relationship.
Payors will still have to file for modification, but under the proposed new law, a party who unreasonably opposes a modification will have to pay attorneys’ fees.
Language relating to retirement also is a lot stronger. Under this legislation, retirement would be considered a substantial change in circumstances and existing alimony shall be modified or terminated. It also strengthens the language of what constitutes retirement. This is important because often times those paying alimony feel they have been prevented from retiring because if they did they would not be able to continue to pay their alimony at the level they had been.
Under this bill, income w ould be based on what someone has historically made and not what a spouse made in a particular year. This is particularly important if a couple divorces at a time when one spouse happened to make significantly more than in past years, but was not guaranteed to continue making that amount of money. An example might be a big bonus that year. Instead, the courts will have to look at a payor’s income history to determine how much alimony is to be paid.
The guidelines and presumptions also give people in need an increased chance to receive alimony and there is a chance that some will end up receiving more alimony and for a more definite period of time under this bill. Shorter marriages, where many people do not receive alimony because of the high cost of going to court, would be eligible for alimony under a simpler and more predictable formula.
The one thing this bill does not include is retroactive language, which was Gov. Rick Scott’s stated reason for vetoing the bill during the 2013 legislative session.
As the bill works its way through committees, Sustainable Family Solutions will continue to follow the latest on alimony reform and will provide updates.
Click here to read the full bill.
Lori Barkus is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil and Family Law mediator and guardian ad litem. She handles matters relating to divorce, custody, child support, paternity, collaborative divorce, adoption, parental rights, and family law and civil mediation.
Ms. Barkus is a cum laude graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.
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