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No Alimony Reform in Florida in 2015

The regular session of the Florida Legislature for 2015 has ended without passing any alimony reform statute. This came as a surprise to almost everyone who was following this legislation. The family law section of the Florida Bar worked closely with the legislature to attempt to work out a new statute to amend alimony laws in a fair and equitable manner. Despite this effort, alimony reform bills HB 943 and SB 1248 failed to become law this session.

The House and Senate agreed on almost all provisions of this proposed legislation, except whether there should be a presumption that parents should engage in equal timesharing. The Senate version of the bill contained this presumption, while the House version did not.

While working to iron out this issue, the House abruptly cut the session short by three days, resulting in no more time to work out these differences, resulting in any new legislation on alimony being postponed next session. Last session, primarily because of budget concerns and because it was an election year, the legislature did not work on amending the alimony statute. In 2013, Governor Scott vetoed the proposed legislation amending the alimony statute because it was to apply retroactively. The proposed legislation this year did not use the 2013 bill as a base, but rather according to Sen. Kelli Stargel, sponsor of SB 1248, was a “complete rewrite.”

Alimony reform has been a hot topic for many years now and it does not look like it is going away. More likely than not, it will again be on the agenda for the next legislative session.

The following are some of the key provisions of the bill the legislature attempted to pass this session:

Duration of Alimony:
The proposed legislation eliminated permanent periodic alimony for long-term marriages and also eliminated the current guideline brackets based on the years of marriage. Instead, it proposed a formula to establish the duration of alimony, which would have established an upper and lower end. The lower end was 0.25 times the years of marriage. The upper end was 0.75 times the years of marriage. For the most part, there would be no alimony in marriages under 2 years.

Amount of alimony:
Instead of basing the amount of alimony on the recipient’s need and the payor’s ability to pay, as is the standard under the current law, the proposed legislation would have determined an upper and lower end amount of alimony. The lower end would have been .015 times the number of years of the marriage times the difference between the monthly gross incomes of the parties. The upper end would have been .020 times the number of years of the marriage times the difference between the monthly gross incomes of the parties.
Child support and alimony combined would not have been allowed to exceed 55% of the payor’s net income.

Definition of Income and Underemployment:
The proposed legislation would have encouraged the court to determine income at least at minimum wage, and includes disability income, personal use of business expenditures and worker’s comp payments. It did not include income within retirement accounts if the money was not taken out prior to retirement age.

Income would also have included “Potential Income, i.e. the amount a person could make using his or her best efforts.” This is a big change from the current law where a party must impute income to the other party. Additionally, the legislation would have defined underemployment to include working part time or taking an educational course that was not expected to increase income or is not a reasonable fit with prior training and experience.

Standard of Living:
The goal of the current statute is to maintain the marital standard of living after divorce. The proposed legislation would have recognized that the standard of living for two households would be lower than for one.

Modification of Alimony:
The legislation would have made the new law applicable to pending modification of alimony cases where there was not yet a judgment entered on the modification and would have sped up the process to get a modification of alimony. A new spouse’s financial information would not be relevant in a modification case.

Cohabitation:
New statute would have made it easier to prove cohabitation and to therefore terminate alimony.

Retirement:
Under the proposed legislation, it would have been easier to retire and stop paying alimony. A person paying alimony would have been eligible to terminate alimony payments if he/she has reached retirement age, was eligible for social security benefits, retired, or reached customary retirement age.

Conclusion:
We will need to look to see whether the legislature begins the quest to amend the alimony statutes by starting its next session using these provisions, or whether it does a complete rewrite, like it did after the 2013 session. With so much effort having gone into this most recent attempted rewrite, it is likely that the next legislative session will begin where this one left off, that the above provisions will form the shell of any new legislation and that the major issue will be whether or not the legislation has a presumption in favor of 50/50 timesharing.