50 Shades of Alimony

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SB 668, commonly known as, “alimony reform,” was recently vetoed by Governor Scott, after already passing through both, the House and Senate, convincingly. Similarly, just two short years ago a similar bill was vetoed on what was the first near successful attempt at an overhaul of alimony in Florida.

The writing is on the wall and it seems inevitable, so get ready and prepared … winter is coming. Although the exact language as to how the alimony laws will be changed is not yet black and white, there are still many shades of grey and we know that alimony as we know it will be changed very soon.

Proponents of alimony reform argue that the current laws are inequitable, if not downright unfair; permanent alimony should be a thing of the past; amounts being awarded are over burdensome; and that alimony laws should be streamlined to reduce litigation and reduce the attorneys whom charge exorbitant amounts of money and get rich off the contentious nature of current alimony disputes. I was not personally in Tallahassee during some of the heated debates and open floor discussions regarding the above arguments by proponents; however, a source whom I trust has indicated that the picture painted of family law attorneys and the over-generalizations made regarding the evil nature of our intentions were both ugly and persuasive. Let it be known that there is a dark undertone as to why alimony laws should be changed and we, as attorneys, have become the easy scapegoat’s for justification in what is otherwise a debate filled with shades of grey.

Opposition to alimony reform mostly consists of counter-arguments such as, terminating permanent alimony is unfair in situations of long-term marriage and a stay-at-home spouse; alimony is not a one-sized fits all issue allowing for a formula or guideline approach similar to how child support is calculated; or alimony reform will only result in an influx of more litigation versus the position that litigation will reduce as the proponents argue. If you speak to many local family law attorneys who practice primarily in the area involving domestic disputes where alimony is litigated, the consensus I hear is that the proposed alimony reform is too drastic, too limiting and will only cause more litigation for years to come.

Alimony reform, will do away with the different types of alimony, along with the determination of which type is proper while considering the need of the recipient, and the ability of the payor, as well as a determination of whether the marriage is short, long or of a moderate term. Instead, we will now have “presumptive guidelines.” For example:

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Amount Guidelines:

  • Low end: (length of whole years of marriage x .015) x difference of monthly gross income.
  • High end: (length of whole years of marriage x .020) x difference of monthly gross income.

Duration Guidelines:

  • Low end: length of whole years of marriage x .025.
  • High end: length of whole years of marriage x .075.

In fact, the proposed presumptive guidelines are calculated for all marriages over two years before a determination is even made as to the need of the recipient, or the ability of the payor.

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Alimony reform is exhaustive and an in-depth analysis of the legislation would be necessary before practitioners embark upon representing clients in a contested alimony dispute; one in which this article does not purport to do. However, a few more important changes to current statutory language to give readers an insight as to the depth of the overhaul include, but are not limited to:

  • A plethora of detailed definitions (including detailed descriptions of “income” that both differs and expands broadly from those definitions included in 61.30 for child support), as well as “Factors” to help attorneys and judges alike understand how the language in the new legislation, including the presumptive guidelines, should be interpreted and ordered in alimony cases.
  •  Bolstering statutory language for determining supportive relationships, imputation of income and retirement outcomes.

In closing, absent the Senate bill bundling the alimony reform with language that made 50/50 equal custody a presumption or “premise” for all cases involving minor children, the governor would not have vetoed the bill and we would already know with certainty how alimony will be calculated moving forward. In the meantime, we at least know with all likely certainty we will see some form of alimony reform in the very near future, if not at next year’s legislative session. Some shade of SB 668 will return and whether you’re a proponent or opponent, be prepared to counsel future clients on the new laws. Perhaps, be prepared for these new laws to affect you even more personally. Matthew Hesketh and John Alan Doran

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