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Governor Scott Again Vetoes Alimony Reform Bill

Alimony has been a contentious subject in Florida for a number of years and the legislature has made several attempts to change the current alimony statute. Three years ago, Governor Scott vetoed a proposed alimony reform bill because it would apply retroactively. Last year, the legislative session was cut short because of budgetary issues and the House and Senate could not agree on whether to include equal timesharing language in the bill, so proposed alimony reform legislation was not passed.

During the 2015-2016 legislative session, the Florida legislature revisited alimony reform and passed SB 668, which would have made significant changes to how alimony is calculated in the State of Florida and would have eliminated permanent periodic alimony. It also would have started with the premise that equal timesharing between each parent and the child is in the child’s best interest.

Governor Scott vetoed the bill because he was concerned with the equal timesharing language. The Governor explained,

Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the child first when determining a parent plan. This bill has the potential to up-end that policy in favor of putting the wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing. Our judges must consider each family’s unique situation and abilities and put the best interests of the child above all else.

The Governor did not offer an opinion regarding the substance of the new formula proposed for the calculation of the amount and duration of alimony awards. Presumably, therefore, had SB 668 not contained the equal timesharing language; Governor Scott would not have had a problem with the bill.

The final bill (SB 668) contained formulas for the amount and duration of alimony payments based on the length of the marriage and the incomes of the parties. It made it easier to reduce or eliminate alimony payments upon retirement and would have applied to all divorces or modification actions pending as of October 1, 2016, which would have been the effective date of the bill, had the governor not vetoed it.

The equal timesharing language was not originally in the House version of the Bill and the House, at least initially, was against including that language. Ultimately, however, the equal timesharing provision was included in the bill, sent to the Governor, and resulted in the Governor’s veto.

Alimony reform has been very controversial, with strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Those in favor of reform say that the current laws are antiquated and do not reflect current economic realities. They also argue that those who work hard to support their families are punished for being good providers during the marriage by having to continue to provide after divorce.
Opponents of alimony reform argue that it would negatively impact primarily women who have been homemakers and caregivers during the marriage and have removed themselves from the workforce to raise children or support spouses. They also maintain that the bill will adversely impact many women who are currently older and without means to support themselves and other women who in the future will run out of alimony payments when they most need them.

The Florida Bar Family Law Section had urged Governor Scott to veto the bill because of the equal timesharing language it contained. It appears as if the Governor was persuaded by the Bar’s reasoning.

In all likelihood, this is not the end of the alimony reform efforts. The legislature now knows that the Governor will not approve a bill that applies retroactively or that contains an equal time-sharing provision. The next alimony reform bill to be passed by the legislature is likely to look very similar to SB 668, but without the equal timesharing language.