Alimony Reform in Florida

Florida Alimony Reform, or FAR, the state’s leading alimony reform organization – and the largest such group in the country – vowed to press on fighting to update Florida’s “antiquated” alimony laws, despite the Florida State Senate’s failure to bring the Florida State House of Representatives-passed reform bill, HB 549, to the Senate floor in the final week of the 2012 legislative session.

“I’m hugely disappointed on behalf of our members,” said the group’s spokesman, Alan Frisher, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, in local media. “After the House passed the bill that we supported, by a vote of 83 to 30, I expected the Senate to follow suit. But our opposition had another plan.” The effort’s primary opponent is the Florida Bar Association’s Family Law Section, headed by attorney David Manz. Last month in the New York Times, Mr. Manz was quoted as saying that alimony reform advocates are a “very vocal, persuasive minority.” “Florida is very much behind the times in its alimony laws,” said Mr. Frisher. “And despite opposition from the Family Law Section, many Florida divorce lawyers know this and believe there should be serious revisions to current law.”

Mr. Frisher half agreed with Mr. Manz’s assessment. “We are vocal indeed, because the state’s permanent alimony laws are backwards, out-of-touch and hugely unfair to everyone in this picture but the lawyers. As far as being a minority, every divorce affects the entire family, and when alimony never ends and payers lose their houses and go bankrupt because they can’t afford their payments, the consequences are devastating to children, grandchildren, stepchildren and new spouses. Even when circumstances are not that dire,” Mr. Frisher continued, “the animosity between ex-spouses over lifetime alimony is terribly destructive.”

Florida alimony reform proponents want their state’s laws “moved into the 21st Century” and say that ending alimony payments after a funeral is “archaic” and the “till death do us part” part of the marriage vows should not include alimony checks.

FAR says they intend to support future legislation that will end permanent alimony in Florida and replace it with alimony based on the length of the marriage and the income of the parties, as the new law does in Massachusetts. (We wrote about the Massachusetts law in this post.) The emphasis will be on generous transitional alimony for the lower earner, with the goal of making lower earners self-sufficient, as is the case in most states throughout the country.

In addition to limiting alimony, FAR says they support provisions that would lower or end alimony when a recipient is cohabiting (living with someone else) for an extended period. Under current Florida law, cohabiting ex-spouses may collect alimony until death, even if they are living permanently with new partners. FAR also says they support establishing a “meaningful right to retire” so that alimony payers are not forced to work until death to make their payments (as they are now), even after divorced couples have divided marital assets and given the lower earner assets, pensions, and the Social Security payments that all lower earners receive after ten years of marriage.

This Florida alimony reform battleground will be interesting to keep an eye on when the next legislative session convenes March 5, 2013.

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