Florida proposal to limit alimony defeated, but may reemerge next session

A recent attempt to end permanent alimony in Florida was defeated by a last minute veto. Yet many expect the topic will return for discussion in the next legislative session. The legislation not only affected alimony awards, but also how the courts decide child custody disputes.

Senate Bill 718 would have made it harder for spouses in short-term marriages to obtain support. Those in long-term marriages would have been restricted to alimony payments of half the length of the marriage. For instance, a mother or father who gave up economic opportunities to handle the household and care for the children during a 20-year marriage would only receive support for a maximum of 10 years following divorce.

Another aspect of the bill related to child custody. The bill would have changed the presumption to equal custody for both parents, unless extraordinary circumstances existed.

Concerns raised by the governor

Governor Rick Scott expressed concerns that the legislation would apply retroactively and change settled divorce provisions. The retroactive nature of the legislation could have created unfair results. Currently, Florida law has provisions for adjusting alimony when necessary.

Governor Scott did note that some elements of the bill were forward looking and would modernize and level the playing field for alimony in divorce cases.

Proponents of the legislation argue that there needs to be an end to alimony at some point. Those opposed to the bill saw the measures as harming the financial stability of women and children. The bill would have taken away the ability of a judge to make discretionary rulings based on the individual facts of a case.

Current alimony laws allow flexibility

Several types of Florida spousal support or alimony allow judges flexibility, such as rehabilitative, bridge-the-gap, durational, and permanent, depending on the individual case. The court must always answer two questions before awarding alimony or spousal maintenance:

  • Does one spouse actually need support?
  • Can the other spouse afford to pay maintenance?

In addition to answering these two basic questions, the court takes into account the standard of living that the parties enjoyed during their marriage, age of the parties and length of the marriage to name a few. Florida statutes lay out 10 factors that may be considered depending on the circumstances.

The statute also provides some guidance on length of a marriage. A short-term marriage is less than seven years and alimony is generally an exception. A marriage of more than 17 years in classified as long term and the divorce often includes spousal maintenance.

Divorce laws in Florida are complex and open to changes. A Florida family law attorney can explain how the law applies in your individual circumstances.