Second alimony reform bill filed

Black ink images of shared parentingFlorida Senator Kelli Stargel has joined her legislative colleague Representative Colleen Burton in filing a bill designed to change the state’s alimony reform laws.

As I wrote on Tuesday, Burton’s bill ( HB 943 ) goes a long way toward changing the current system, while at the same time appeasing those who have been against reform by being more fair and balanced.

Stargel, who sponsored the failed alimony bill during the 2013 legislative session, has included in her newest bill ( SB 1248 ) a provision that creates a presumption that approximately equal time-sharing by both parents is in the best interest of the child. It also revises a finite list of factors that a court must evaluate when determining whether the presumption of approximately equal time-sharing is overcome.

The bill requires that a court order must be supported by written findings of fact if that order establishes an initial permanent time-sharing schedule that does not provide for approximately equal time-sharing.

There is no mention of shared parenting in Burton’s bill – however, a provision for shared-parenting was included in the 2013 alimony reform legislation, which was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

While shared parenting is not easy to legislate, there has been a move in recent years toward the practice. In most instances, judges often base their custody decisions on a “best interest of the child standard” which can be vague and indeterminate.

Too often than not, a child becomes a pawn in a battle between parents with the lesser-earning parent opposing equal time-sharing because it could result in lower monthly child support payments. As I have noted in the past, parents are presumed equal during the marriage. What changed in the equality equation once the marriage ended?

Last year, the National Parents Organization produced a 42-page study that looked at shared parenting state-by-state. No state received an “A” and Florida received a “C.” While the report found that Florida has a strong statutory presumption of shared parenting responsibility, it does not explicitly create a presumption concerning physical custody, nor do Florida statutes explicitly provide for shared parenting during temporary orders.

It will be interesting to see if this provision survives the legislative process. As the bill works its way through committees, Sustainable Family Solutions will continue to follow the latest on alimony reform and will provide updates.

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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