Nearly every year over the past five years, the Florida Legislature has considered, deliberated, and pondered significant alimony reform. Seemingly, every year the legislature gets closer and closer to passing alimony reform. Three years ago, a bill passed both the State Senate and State House, which contained sweeping changes to future alimony, permitted all existing alimony obligations to be modified consistent with the new law, and added a provision with sweeping changes to the state’s laws regarding parenting plans. Gov. Rick Scott vetoed this bill, citing concern over its retroactive application. After a year off, another bill was presented to the governor last year. This time, while the retroactive application piece was removed, the legislature kept the provision with drastic changes to the laws regarding parenting plans. Once again, after delibera-tion and hearing from Florida’s families, the governor vetoed that bill.
This year, the alimony provisions of last year’s bill are back before the Florida Legislature (House Bill 283 and Senate Bill 412). The current bill proposes to completely change the way that alimony is determined in Florida. For example, under the laws as they currently exist, the length of time that a payor would be obligated to pay alimony is tied closest to the length of the marriage. Once a marriage is 17 years in length, there is a presumption that per-manent alimony would be appropriate, if necessary at all. Permanent alimony means until the death of either party, or the remar-riage of the recipient (or the recipient’s cohabitation in some circumstances).
Of course, determining the amount of alimony is another issue altogether, and the amount is always subject to potential modi-fication. But use of the term “permanent alimony” is alive and well in the existing law. The proposed bill, however, elimi-nates the term “permanent” or any other label for alimony, and simply calls all of it, “alimony.” In that sense, if the proposed bill becomes law, permanent alimony will no longer exist.
Instead of having different forms of alimony, the bill provides for a single type of alimony that has a presumptive range for the duration (25 percent to 75 percent of the length of the marriage), and a presump-tive range for the amount, which consists of a formula focused primarily on the dif-ference of the incomes of the parties. The bill also provides a comprehensive list of potential factors for the court to consider, which would permit the court to deviate outside of the presumptive ranges if it feels such a deviation is necessary.
Finally, the bill also provides an ex-tensive definition of income, which seems intent on capturing all possible forms of income available to either party. Since the presumptive alimony amount is now tied directly to the incomes of the parties, as opposed to any analysis of the historical spending of the parties, defining income seems wise and necessary.
The likelihood of this year’s alimony bill becoming law may be higher than ever. It seems our state legislators may have processed the messages from the past, as this bill does not involve retroactive application (existing alimony obligations will not be impacted by the bill), nor does it suggest that 50/50 time-sharing for parents is au-tomatically in the best interest of the child in all cases (which has absolutely nothing to do with alimony).
If it passes, this bill will make drastic changes to way alimony is determined and awarded, even if the ultimate results remain consistent with alimony awards of the past. The stated goal of the bill is to provide some consistency to alimony awards, but the bill continues to provide some room for the court to exercise its discretion when it deems appropriate.
are partners at Klaus Doupé, a leading law firm in Naples focusing solely on marital and family law. Visit www.Marital-FamilyLaw. com or call 239-403-9800.