Changes in Florida’s alimony laws explained
As a Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney, my clients (especially clients in long-term marriages) are always concerned about alimony. Alimony (or spousal support) is money paid by one spouse for the support and maintenance of the other spouse.
In April 2013, the Florida Legislature drastically overhauled the present alimony system (currently awaiting the approval of Governor Rick Scott). Like any major overhaul, especially one that impacts thousands of individuals, some camps support the Legislature’s decision; other camps oppose the Legislature’s decision. Regardless of your position, any individual considering filing for divorce must know the (updated) alimony landscape moving forward. Before I delve into the changes, I first want to shed some light on the impetus for the change.
Alimony has been a hot-button topic for many years, as some camps believe that the alimony laws were antiquated in that they were written at a time when women did not work and were expected to stay at home and raise the children. There have been divorce cases where a Judge has ordered one spouse (typically the male) to pay the other spouse (typically the woman) alimony for the rest of their life – without taking into account the financial circumstances of the parties or whether he/she was even employed. Sadly, these rulings were often arbitrary, inconsistent across Judges (and jurisdictions), and with little uniformity regarding the amount and duration since the amount of alimony awarded is discretionary.
Although Lyons, Snyder & Collin does not take a position in whether this particular alimony reform is appropriate, I would suspect that most divorce lawyers would agree that more definitive guidelines are long-overdue. The current economic reality is one in which both women and men can work. Moreover, women and men now live longer than they did when the present alimony laws were enacted. Increasingly, the woman is the family’s breadwinner and the man raises the children. A system where a Court can lock-down a spouse married at age 22 (and divorced at age 39) to a life-time of paying alimony regardless of the financial circumstances of the parties is outdated and quite frankly, unfair.
The new law, SB 718, would effectively end permanent alimony, cap alimony awards based on a person’s income and the length of the marriage and make it easier for a former spouse to terminate or lower alimony payments upon retirement. It also gives parents equal time-sharing of any children born of the marriage – a dramatic change from the current system. Giving parents equal time-sharing will reduce the amount of child support paid by the parties and reduce the amount of litigation regarding the amount of “overnights” which has a direct effect on the amount of child support a parent receives.
SB 718 also defines short, medium and long-term marriages and caps alimony at: (1) 38% of the paying spouse’s gross income for long-term marriages (over 21 years); (2) 35% of gross income for medium term marriages (11-21 years); (3) and 25% of short-term marriages. Short of a special circumstance, the duration of the alimony would be equal to no more than half the years of the marriage. For example, a couple married for 10 years would be capped at 5 years of alimony. Under the current system, the Courts had considered a long-term marriage as over 17 years, a medium-term marriage as 7-17 years, and a short-term marriage as less than 7 years. Permanent alimony was presumed in long-term marriages.
Under the new alimony bill, Judges who make alimony awards outside the aforementioned guidelines would have to state their specific reasons in writing.
One benefit of the new alimony law is that it should reduce the need for litigation on many (typically contested) issues. Although some divorce and family law attorneys have voiced their concern about the effect that this will have on their pocketbooks, the divorce attorneys at Lyons, Snyder & Collin find this to be a welcomed and long overdue change. With definitive guidelines, more individuals may feel inclined to seek a divorce without the fear of a Judge arbitrarily awarding their spouse an untenable alimony amount or their divorce attorney bankrupting them with fees. Although our fees may suffer, our clients should receive even better results with significantly less uncertainty or “luck of the draw”.
If you are considering filing for divorce in Fort Lauderdale, Miami-Dade or Palm Beach, please contact the experienced divorce and family law attorneys at Lyons, Snyder & Collin who are familiar with all the recent changes in Florida’s alimony laws.
*** UPDATED MAY 2, 2013 — THE CURRENT ALIMONY SYSTEM WILL REMAIN IN PLACE ***
Governor Rick Scott vetoed the alimony bill approved by the Florida Legislature. The scuttlebutt among family law attorneys is that Governor Scott vetoed the alimony bill as a result of it applying retroactively. Whether Governor Scott’s reasoning for his veto is impure or not, I suspect that Florida’s alimony laws (and especially permanent alimony) will be hotly debated for many years to come.