Retired judge says Tom Lee's alimony legislation sets "dangerous" precedent if enacted - Florida Politics

Retired judge says Tom Lee’s alimony legislation sets “dangerous” precedent if enacted

Once again Brandon Republican state Sen. Tom Lee’s proposed alimony legislation (SB 250) that would end awarding lifetime payments by the ex-spouse making the most money in the relationship is causing a ripple in Tallahassee.

One of the most controversial pieces of the legislation is requiring judges to allow the divorcing parents get equal time with children from the marriage.

In an op-ed obtained by Florida Politics, retired Judge Robert M. Evans calls Lee’s bill “dangerously flawed” and urges Gov. Rick Scott to form a neutral “Family Law Reform” Task Force to study the issue.

Evans was a judge for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit Court for more than 20 years. He was elected in September 1994 and retired from the court this past December.

Evans writes that no other state in the nation mandates equal child timesharing, and says it would set a dangerous national precedent if adopted into law.

“It is clear that the bill drafters had little knowledge of the developmental needs of children despite a plethora of psychological material available to them,” Evans writes. “An infant developmentally has no sense of time. Therefore, as the infant is removed from one home to another (absent a legal battle) the infant has no understanding of what is occurring. During the infant’s first years of development, an infant forms attachments. No child psychologist would ever make this recommendation.”

Evans also writes that with respect to alimony and child support, “it is likely that this legislation will create a new class of impoverished, especially among older women and traditional mothers.”

He also takes exception to the provision in the bill that changes how much alimony the lower wage earning spouse would receive. “The drafters have no objective data to support the criteria used.  They simply pulled numbers out of the sky with no objective basis to support how the alimony recipient will be able to survive on the arbitrary ranges they have proposed.”

Scott in 2013 vetoed a measure, also supported by Lee, that would have ended so-called “permanent alimony.” The governor said he appreciated that lawmakers wanted to “level the playing field in divorce proceedings.”

But he said he couldn’t sign the bill because it could have “retroactively” reduced alimony payments, causing “unfair, unanticipated results.”

This year, another measure died that also would have mandated alimony awards based on how long a marriage lasted and how much each partner earned.

The Family Law Section of The Bar supported the alimony overhaul earlier this year but was strongly opposed to Lee’s child-sharing provision.

“Nothing is more subjective, less quantifiable and more emotional than who gets the children, and it is where a bulk of the litigation money is spent,” Lee told the South-Florida Sun-Sentinel in May. “This was a bill about greater predictability and reducing the amount of things for people to fight about.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

13 Comments

  1. Talk about a direct violation of constitutional rights. This judge must be heavily involved in benefiting from parents NOT receiving equal protection to parent their children under the law. I would call for an investigation into this judge and his ties monetary to child support.

  2. It is time for alimony reform in Florida. I believe structured ratios could prove to be a positive factor for all involved and should automatically be applied when one partner has been the stay-at-home parent for a given period of two or more years. I also think that standardized ratios should be applied when a minor child or children are present and the income of the primary caregiving parent is less than that of the other spouse by 40% or more. As far as equal time sharing, the Judge interviewed for the article is correct regarding children’s attachment needs. However, there are many children who come out of the womb and from an early age experience practically equal time sharing with their parents. These children don’t seem to suffer adverse affects from caregiving that shifts between parents (or maybe even between a parent and other family member). It’s the lack of “permanent” contact with a consistent caregiver of caregivers that negatively impacts a child’s emotional well-being. That said, when it comes to alimony reform, there should be equal time sharing for those parents who have already established an equal caregiving relationship toward their children prior to separation and divorce. If the parents weren’t equally sharing the amount of time caring for the child(ren), then an equal time sharing mandate shouldn’t be applied. Instead, the caregiving ratios that were in place prior to the marriage dissolving should be applied separation and divorce. This might encourage parents to take a more active role in rearing their children, instead of using the other parent as a baby sitting service. For women, knowing that their partners will have to step up to the plate or pay up if the Big D happens, it might just give them the bit of breathing room they need in order to focus moving their careers forward. For corporations, they won’t be able to make dad the heavy by expecting his wife to do the majority of caregiving to the children. And men themselves will be able to speak up and say, “I have to go and take care of my child.” without negative repercussions on their careers.

    Also with the alimony reform, I’d like to see legislation that upholds financial aspects of the marital settlement. The agreement should enforced when non-support type of financial obligations are not met So, if a spuse adrees to pay the other’s debts as part of the marital settlement agreement and then reneges, a judge should be able to hold the non-performing spouse in contempt.

    That said, I am a newly divorced mother. I had been a SAH parent and married for over 20 years when my spouse chose to leave and start a new life with someone else. He did not want the children and had minimal contact with them (a few hours a week) for the first 15 months post separation. We mediated an agreement that provides him with with about 30% of time sharing and this amount was at his behest. I waived my right to alimony in exchange for use of the marital home until the last child turns 18 and in exchange of my debts and the joint debt, including mortgage, being paid by him. From the start, he refused to pay the the unsecured debts and threatened me with not paying the mortgage. (He has title and ownership of the marital home). Thankfully, he chose to pay the mortgage. However, I was left scrambling to pay my debts and I am also paying on the joint credit card on which he defaulted. I currently am a college student going through a vocational rehabilitation job training program so I can achieve long-term, gainful employment. And having some college education, I do understand Family Systems Theory and economies of scale, so please don’t chastise me for staying “at home”, providing “free” household and childcare services to my family. I realize the impact of the opportunity cost on my not having a career. Besides, I also saved the State of Florida a heck of a lot of money by providing home education services to it’s future taxpayers. 😉

    Reading about my experiences, you can see that while families are unique, they still perform according to basic methodologies theorized by social scientists. Alimony reform can (and should) be legislated. Policy makers, trained professionals in behavioral science, social science, finance, law enforcement and education, as well as individuals within the Family Law system should collaborate with Florida’s citizens to establish a safe and fair mechanism to address family issues during and following a divorce.

  3. Well thank god you are not a judge anymore! It takes one state to set the precedence and then it’s done. Family courts have destroyed this nation with their skewed decisions.

  4. The judge is living in the dark ages. Women are the primary wage earners in over 40% of homes. Dangerous? Yup, the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was also considered dangerous. I’m a real feminist who supports true equality and that means equality in all areas. Real feminists wouldn’t want something for nothing. I don’t know of any job or career that gaurntees payment for life. End permanent alimony and remove the shackles.

  5. Although I applaude Senator Lee for taking on this new fight to protect fathers from forced parental alienation by abuse of current law in child custody cases, I do think it is a separate issue than alimony and should be debated separately.
    Many social views of marriage have changed and Florida being a No Fault without cause state can damage an innocent father not just by forced alimony and divorce, but parental alienation. Most divorces in today’s times are initiated by women who can use the law to punish good men and fathers.
    Senator Lee’s 50/50 child custody presumption is correct in demanding parental rights stay with the parents before power is shifted to a judge or psychologist!

  6. In case the retired judge who is now working in private practice hasn’t noticed, contemporary economics increasingly make the ability of either spouse to “stay-at-home” not realistic for most couples, neither during the marriage or once it’s ended. Even if their finances allowed for one spouse to stay at home while the other served as breadwinner during the marriage, that situation changed upon divorce.
    In a no-fault divorce state such as Florida, it is fundamentally wrong to make one party financially responsible for supporting the other when a marriage ends. Both parties should be expected to support themselves, regardless of the life they shared while married or the duration of that marriage. Alimony should be at best durational and act as bridge to self-sufficiency.
    The current laws allow too much discretion to the courts and lack of established guidelines leads to widely varying outcomes depending on the courtroom where the divorce is adjudicated. One judge might award no alimony at all while another orders permanent lifetime support. The new bills propose to fix this by instituting a system of spousal support guidelines similar to those already used in calculating child support.
    Alimony payors need to have the ability to retire, nobody should have to work forever just to support an ex-spouse from whom they divorced years or even decades earlier. This amounts to involuntary servitude and slavery was abolished in this country over 150 years ago.
    It is always sad when a couple must divorce but it is worse when they are forever locked in a cycle of litigation that benefits no one but the divorce industry. When a marriage ends, there should be no expectation that one party will be forever supported by the other. It breeds dependency. It is wrong.

  7. He might be off the bench now but he damaged how many cases in the past??
    Why does he even get an interview without the reporter checking out that he is now a practicing attorney in a big firm, his best interest is in more litigation which is what we have now with these archaic laws. This new bill/law would put a big crimp on lawyers with no morals with the single interest of just wanting to make money off more litigation.
    To the author of the story, Please, when you run a story do your research before quoting a person that has a huge conflict of interest.

  8. This Judge should NEVER step foot in a Family Court. My statement to the Florida Supreme Court Task Committee….“Loss of a child is catastrophic in its own right, but loss of a child through parental alienation is far worse than loss of a child through death. At least with death, you have closure. Through parental alienation, there is no closure.” Glen Gibellina ..https://youtu.be/4LInxoSJN9E

  9. Kudos to Judge Evans! Florida is the worse state in the nation for violations of mothers and children’s rights, not to mention Florida receives billions from the Federal FATHERHOOD Program which pays the courts, their staff and nearly every government entity to keep children in the lives of fathers even if they have been abusive and violent. and we wonder why so many good mothers are losing custody in Florida, and why there are so many deaths of mothers and children in Florida? 85% of DV is perpatrated by males, now they are getting full custody of children! And we wonder why we are seeing all these shootings by teens? They are growing up angry. the system has failed them. Where is the motherhood.gov to protect our children?

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