Will 2015 be the year for alimony reform?

Cutting up wedding contractLast week, I attended a seminar put on by the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers for the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar. Based on discussions that took place during the meeting, as well as discussions I had with colleagues, I suspect that a new alimony reform bill will be introduced during the upcoming Florida legislative session that will do away with permanent alimony and replace it with alimony of a specific duration.

While it doesn’t mean the demise of alimony altogether, I suspect that it will be limited and based more closely on, among other things, the number of years a couple has been married.

I also suspect that the legislation will include a simpler modification process and that the time period for establishing modification will be shortened considerably.

Currently, in order to modify alimony, a paying spouse needs to show a permanent change in circumstances. That change in circumstances needs to be at least for one year. That’s difficult, especially in cases where there is job loss, because that is considered temporary. In these instances, judges have had a lot of discretion. As a result, rulings have varied greatly. The new law could establish guidelines designed to create more unanimity across the board and to shorten the timeline.

I also expect there to be a more clearly defined definition for supportive relationships and the creation of an easier means to prove that a supportive relationship exists. Existing Florida law specifically provides for the reduction or termination of alimony if the court finds that a supportive relationship exists between the recipient and another person residing with the recipient. However, the person seeking to reduce or terminate alimony has the burden of proving, by greater weight of the evidence, that a supportive relationship exists. And, the person receiving support also must prove that there is a continued need.

While there’s a great deal of discussion, no lawmaker has formally stepped forward to say he or she will sponsor alimony reform legislation. However, there is still plenty of time as the Florida Legislature doesn’t get to work until March.

With more players coming to the table in an apparent recognition that reform is needed, I believe there is a good chance we could see a bill filed March 1 and new law take effect as early as July 1.

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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