Alimony Guidelines – Coming Soon in Florida
Many eyes are on the Florida Legislature as it makes its final tweaks to the much-anticipated alimony reform bill. With the legislative session ending on April 30, 2015, a bill that would eliminate permanent alimony and remove the existing categories of bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or permanent alimony is expected to become law. Instead of giving trial judges broad discretion to award alimony, Florida would use alimony guidelines, which will rely upon a formula based upon the number of years of marriage and the disparity in the spouses’ incomes in determining alimony. The proposed law would also limit the amount of a combined alimony and child support obligation to 55% of a payor’s net income.
A similar bill passed Florida’s House and Senate in 2013, only to be surprisingly vetoed by Governor Rick Scott. In his veto letter, Governor Scott stated that “I have concluded that I cannot support this legislation because it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce. The retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.” The 2015 bill eliminates the offensive retroactive application language, and if passed will become effective on October 1, 2015.
Detractors of the alimony bill argue that it punishes needy spouses, particularly women, who sacrificed careers to stay at home and raise children and lack the skills to be self-supporting. Defenders of alimony reform assert that permanent alimony is a form of indentured servitude, discourages able-bodied persons from being financially independent, and prevents those obligated to pay alimony for life from retiring.
Regardless of which side of the debate one is on, it is hard to argue against the uniformity and predictability that alimony guidelines are expected to provide. Under current Florida law, litigating the amount and term of alimony and whether it will be a permanent obligation is fraught with uncertainty and guesswork, particularly in marriages lasting more than 17 years. Hopefully, having formulaic guidelines will promote settlement of alimony claims, reduce the number of trials, and minimize attorneys’ fees incurred in litigating alimony issues.