Drastic Changes to Florida Alimony Again a Real Possibility
February 19, 2015 Silvia R. Sanders
Two years ago, the legislature overwhelmingly passed a drastic alimony overhaul bill. This bill was the product of special interest groups only on the side of “alimony reform”, and many thought the bill went too far. One of the most objectionable aspects of the bill is that it allowed for a retroactive modification of alimony cases. Many believed that this provision would devastate spouses who relied on this court ordered support. Governor Scott vetoed this bill.
“Alimony Reform” will again be an issue this legislative session. This time around, however, proponents from both sides of the issue have been involved in drafting the new legislation. In 2013, the Florida Bar Family Law Section lobbied hard against the legislation. When the proposals for alimony reform for 2015 were drafted, Florida family law lawyers were invited to the party, and have had significant input into the new proposed legislation. The 2015 legislation may have backing from, or at least no strenuous objections from, the Florida Bar Family Law Section.
Many Florida attorneys and litigants have been frustrated that the intent of the current law has not been implemented by trial judges. The current statutes state that: “In awarding permanent alimony, the court shall include a finding that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the circumstances of the parties.” Judges can currently award durational alimony for a term equal to the term of the marriage, bridge the gap alimony for up to two years, and rehabilitative alimony. Despite these types of alimony being an option, judges continue to award permanent alimony in the majority of long term marriages where there is an ability to pay alimony.
Judges currently have wide discretion in setting alimony awards. Under the exact same set of facts, one judge could set alimony at $500.00, and another could set alimony at $1,500.00. Given the extremely liberal “abusive of discretion” standard that must be met to reverse a trial judge, neither of these awards would likely be over-turned on appeal.
Presently, is impossible for any attorney to accurately predict the exact amount of alimony that may be awarded by a trial judge. This uncertainty leads to costly and unnecessary litigation in many instances.
Another issue that is presently fraught with inconsistency is termination of alimony at retirement. Although Florida case law allows for alimony to be terminated or reduced at retirement, this decision is, again, largely within the discretion of the trial judge. This uncertainly makes it impossible for former spouses paying alimony to effectively plan for retirement.
I expect to see an alimony guideline passed and signed into law by July of 2015. I further expect the legislature to give more guidance on when and how former spouses paying alimony may retire. Other issues, such as cohabitation, may also be addressed.
The Florida legislature is back in session in March. I will update this blog when the proposed bills are published.