The Florida legislature has made several attempts to reform alimony law. In 2013, Governor Rick Scott vetoed a law that would have ended permanent alimony in Florida because it would have applied retroactively and caused panic to current alimony recipients. A new law going through the legislature currently is more likely to receive the governor's signature because it is not retroactive and both sides on this issue support the proposed reforms. Many factors indicate Florida wishes to move away from permanent alimony.
Factors Leading To This Consideration
Activists consider Florida's permanent alimony laws draconian. There are no formulas or standards in place to determine the amount; instead, amounts paid are left to a judge's discretion. Payments can even be required when the payer's only income is social security or pensions.
Current laws do not allow for adjustments in cases of underemployment or other income reductions. Potential or imputed income is often inflated. It is not uncommon for payers to give up to 90 percent of their income in combined alimony and child support payments. Making this worse, there is little incentive for the payee to better him or herself and find work with better pay.
Those affected by the current law testified to the legislature. Stories of once financially successful professionals facing financial ruin were prominent.
While 98 percent of those who pay alimony are men, there were also professional women affected. Family Law Reform vice president, Tarie MacMillan, paid permanent alimony to her husband after 13 years of marriage. It took 65 percent of her income, causing her to lose her house and retirement account; she moved to smaller residences four times in an attempt to save money. Ultimately, she filed for bankruptcy.
The new law would use guidelines to determine spousal support amounts, similar to the way that child support is currently determined. Considerations used to determine an amount would include the length of the marriage and the income of both spouses. Judges would have the discretion to go outside the guidelines in some cases, including those involving long-time homemakers and disabled spouses who would likely have difficulty reintegrating into the workforce.
If child support is also issued, the combined payments for both the child support and alimony cannot exceed 55 percent of the payer's income. Alimony terms would be limited to 25 to 75 percent of marriage length. If the payee received an increase in income or the payer became unemployedt or retired, payments could be reconsidered. Currently, the income of the payer's spouse can also be considered when setting alimony payments for a former spouse but that will stop under the new law.
Judges will still have the discretion to award higher permanent alimony payments to long time homemakers and spouses who face disability. However, with a specific formula applied instead of arbitrary discretion, the payments may be lower than they were under the current law. Alimony payments can also be reconsidered if income changes.
If you are currently receiving permanent alimony, be prepared for filings that request a change. While the law is not retroactive, there appears to be grounds for requesting a modification.
If you are looking at divorce and believe you are entitled to alimony, consider finding a back-up source of income, as now those payments are not required to maintain your standard of living during marriage. Your attorney may have ideas to help you receive assets from the marriage that can make up for shortfalls.
Those currently paying alimony may wish to consider contacting their attorney about a modification, as it appears this law is likely to pass. If you may come out of a divorce as a payer of alimony, provide all your recent income records to ensure an accurate calculation.
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