Alimony bill supporters and opponents square off in Florida Capitol - Florida Politics

Alimony bill supporters and opponents square off in Florida Capitol

As more than 100 of them crammed the waiting room and hallway of Gov. Rick Scott‘s office on Tuesday, advocates and opponents of this year’s alimony overhaul bill had a hollering battle over the contentious legislation.

The opponents, led by Florida National Organization for Women lobbyist Barbara DeVane, scheduled a meeting with Scott’s staff at 11 a.m. to register their condemnation of the bill (SB 668).

The governor has until next Tuesday (April 19) to act on the measure, the final one sent to him by the Legislature out of the 2016 Legislative Session. The bill passed the Senate 24-14 and the House 74-38.

Scott was not in the Capitol, however; he was in central Florida Tuesday morning for a jobs announcement, according to his daily schedule.

Nonetheless, alimony reform activists also were waiting, having held their own rally of about 40 people on the old Capitol steps earlier that morning. Some of their signs said “No lifetime alimony” and “Support equal parenting.”

Nearly all were wearing red, meant to symbolize “love, passion and solidarity,” said Alan Frisher, president of the Family Law Reform group.

The bill does two main things: It changes the way Florida judges can award alimony with the intent to eliminate what critics have called “forever alimony” and creates a starting point for judges deciding custody that children should spend equal time with each parent.

Scott vetoed another attempt to modify alimony law in 2013 because it “tamper(ed) with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”

As Scott’s staff kept everyone waiting for nearly an hour in what became a stiflingly hot reception area, the war of words got similarly heated, with two Capitol Police officers standing by to keep the peace.

“Can we get equal rights?” asked Army veteran David Henry of Melbourne, who later said he was fighting a custody battle with his ex over their 5-year-old daughter. He held a yellow T-shirt that said, “Fathers Stand Up.” “Any comment on the abuse of the system currently?”

“We did not interrupt you so we would appreciate it if you would be silent,” DeVane shot back. They weren’t.

Lawyers “encourage these women to take advantage of the system,” another woman soon said. “Not all of us!” still another said.

One man yelled at opponents of the bill to “feel free to get one” of the “one million great jobs” that Scott says were created in the state during his time in office. “Tell him you need a better job!”

A woman holding a toddler soon asked him to “hold it down” and she was immediately seized on for being an “irresponsible” parent.

Earlier at the pro-bill rally, Carl Messina, a deli meat distributor in Daytona Beach, said his ex-wife was still getting $10,000 a month in permanent alimony from him more than 10 years after their divorce. He said he can’t retire because he’ll still have to work just to afford the monthly payments.

“What, do I have to go to court and beg?” Messina said. “I tried that,” despite his ex-wife now operating a bed and breakfast in New Smyrna Beach. “Listen, anybody I ever told my story to says, ‘that’s not fair.’ “

But Tami Messina, his ex-wife, disputes his side of the story. “He has no idea how my business is doing; in fact, it’s still operating at a loss,” she said in a phone interview.

She also said she “built that business with him, which is why I asked for half” of it. He refused, “so that’s why I am at least getting the alimony … I mean, he makes things up. Most men do, I guess.”

For years, former spouses – mostly men – have said permanent alimony isn’t fair to them. Their exes, usually women, have fought back, saying they shouldn’t be penalized for having trouble re-entering the workforce after staying home for years to raise children.

The bill before Scott allows courts to reduce alimony payments if there is a “substantial change in circumstances.” That could mean the unemployment of the person paying, or the person being paid reaching the age to receive full Social Security benefits.

In the Governor’s Office, members of Scott’s staff members finally came out, spoke to both sides and took notes over the continued din of the waiting area.

“He could hear me,” DeVane later said of the staff member. “He got the message.”

But some opponents were bent out of shape when Family Law Reform’s Frisher appeared to be ushered inside for a private meeting.

Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an email that “members of the Governor’s leadership team met with leadership from both sides of the alimony debate” and “several members of our Citizen Services team also met with dozens of concerned citizens both in opposition to and support of the bill.”

“We appreciate their opinions and we think it is important for Floridians to be able to have their voices heard,” Tupps added, saying the office has received 10,000 calls or emails in support of the bill and nearly 3,000 opposed. “The Governor will continue to listen to Floridians that submit thoughts and views on this legislation.”

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

23 Comments

  1. I am writing Governor Scott to ask him to sign SB 668 into law. This request is based upon my stance on Women’s Rights and the circumstances of my own husband’s divorce.

    I feel that I must share with you the events under my own roof, as I believe my experience and perspective are rarely heard. I am married to a man who was a physician however, he became completely disabled due to a very rare autoimmune disease and was divorced in the following year. His ex-wife, a physician herself for the past 20+yrs, was granted a substantial and lifelong alimony settlement by a female family court judge. And on what was this need for alimony based? Certainly not on her income, considering that she had been serving as a physician for the State of Florida Department of Corrections for 17 years at the time of the divorce.

    Currently, this female physician is earning substantially more money than her ex-husband’s Disability, yet he must pay her $1,000 per month (plus an added $200 per month in retroactive alimony) until he dies. But after paying their minor child’s high school tuition, prepaid college funds, all of the bills that she walked away from, school lunches that she refuses to contribute to, ACT & SAT exams, school books and supplies, school clothes, and all of his own unpaid medical expenses and supplemental policies, my husband does not have the funds to pay for everyday household expenses. I take care of the mortgage. I pay for a good insurance policy for my husband’s son, since his own mother cannot be trust to maintain one for him. And the greatest irony of all is that I, a woman who rejected alimony, am forced to financially support this travesty.

    As a self-made woman and small business owner in Central Florida, I take great pride in what I have accomplished in life ON MY OWN. Each of my great-grandparents came to this country from different nations, fleeing political and religious oppression. They hoped only for the opportunity worship without persecution, to work hard for an honest wage, and the chance to instill those ethics into their children. My grandmother was 5yrs old when her mother died. Overnight, her father became the single parent of 5 children under the age of 8yrs. And despite social pressures to give up his children and the economic hardships of the Great Depression, he maintained the belief that his children were precious gifts entrusted to him and that it was a measure of character to provide for them ON HIS OWN. All three of his daughters grew up to be community leaders and strong voices in their factory unions – decades ahead of their time – teaching their contemporaries, as well as their daughters, that women have both the right and the responsibility to choose their own destiny.

    Myself included, there are three women in my extended family who have been divorced. NOT ONE of us accepted alimony, despite ex-husbands who made considerably more money and had significantly more benefits associated with their positions (stocks, investments, 401ks, healthcare, life insurance). The three of us have struggled at times as women in male dominated fields – chef, police officer, and small business owner in the medical device industry. But we also believe that being given money outright, just because we are female, is as offensive as any other form of discrimination. Women who claim that their ex-husbands have ruined their ability to obtain a decent job with a decent wage, unless they have been somehow abused to the point of significant disability, are merely lazy and looking for someone else to blame for the consequences of their own actions. To be taken seriously in the world as a women, we must stand up to those of our own gender who foster chauvinism by their “poor pitiful me” testimonies. Such behavior is disgustingly self-serving and does nothing but strengthen glass ceilings in every career path and profession.

    I hope that I have presented you with a different view of women and alimony. Although my voice may be small, I do believe it to be honest and I do believe that alimony reform is one important way that women can stand up for equality. A woman’s expectation in a divorce of being owed money for life based on her gender is a vile premise. I can only feel shame when I think of the sacrifices made by the great women of our country who fought so hard for so long – Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Mahoney, Alice Paul, Mary Walker, Dorothy Day, Jeanette Rankin, Jerrie Cobb, Dorothy Height, and countless others. Inspire us anew, brave advocates of Women’s Rights, with your message of strength and equality, as we battle now against the tide of feigned helplessness and entitlement.

  2. The receivers say they shouldn’t be punished for not being able to re-enter the workforce. I say they shouldn’t be rewarded for not even trying to. Alimony is court and state sanctioned welfare with no oversight. TIme for a change. TIme for EQUALITY. Sign SB 668.

    1. Tammy Bickford. Why should we work only to be taken to court because we got a 10% raise on as your group claims,”jobs as a Walmart Greeter”?

      1. You should work because that is what responsible adults do. Why should you be able to double dip?If you get a raise then your need for alimony is reduced. The chances of getting brought back to court nil. The chances of getting brought for a buck an hour is nil. If you are making an additional $5K a year then yeah, why shouldn’t you have to give up some alimony? Do you rally think things are fair as it stands now? You really think lifetime alimony to an able bodied 43 year old is warranted? Really? And what if she already has a college degree? What if SHE chose to leave the marriage? SHould she still get lifetime alimony? You would be ok with this happening to your son? New law IS NOT cookie cutter. There is still room to deviate for special circumstances like the little old lady gramdma who has stayed at home for 40 years. Or abuse situations (proven not just alledged) But all the rest needs a formula. 38 states don’t have permanent alimony at all and as far as I can tell they all have divorce. How are those folks making it? If permanent alimony is so necessary why is there not one single state trying to enact it but 7 out of 12 states are actively trying to abolish it? It’s antiquated and out dated.

      2. Tammy we do not know each other. Every indivual situation is different from the next. I apologize for my “helpings”. Comment. That was rude. I have a breaking point as well.

        I have two years of college. (My fault). In my twenties I held three jobs and tried to keep grades up. Doesn’t work. All three of my kids thankfully did not do as “I did”, but as I said. I am proud of them all and mostly for them. Their father is an extremely successful and brilliant physician. I was a medical assistant. Once I had three children and before I contracted a very disabling auto immune condition, I wanted to work in his office, he laughed, saying it was not worth the small change I would make. I couldn’t force him and since I wasn’t certified, I couldn’t work anywhere else. Today in my later fifties I cannot work. If it were not for his support, I would need to look for help. I pay about 2000.00 a month for my insurance and meds. I have not tried alternative medicine much as it is all out of pocket. I love children and working with sick people. I have even wanted to just volunteer, but I never know from day to day how I will feel.

        I was told by an attorney to plan on him taking me to court when I am 65 and that he will be able to end alimony and that life insurance policy I have never seen. I have worries like anyone else. I have been overly generous with our children. I do what I can but since my money is really “dads money”, it means nothing to them. It is what it is. Again sorry for being mean. I agree some improvements should be made. Just fair ones. Take care.

        1. Kelly, This is a very heated subject. There are stories of abuse on both sides. I’m sorry for your circumstance and it sounds like yours is a case that would be one of the “deviations” the judge is allowed to make. You and I both know that litigating in family court is never a slam dunk and clearly none of the judges are Vulcan since there appears to be very little logic. I wish you good luck with your case.

  3. The current law does nothing to protect the Fathers rights to spend time with his children. In fact the entire family law system is biased towards the Mother.

  4. Thank you to everyone who came out today to support fixing our outdated family laws in Florida!

    SB668 represents an important first step in protecting families from predatory litigating divorce attorneys who prey on families in times of crisis. It has to stop.

    Governor Scott, please sign SB668 – not for the current alimony payers, who will still be sentenced to a lifetime of payments to healthy, educated, and fully employable ex-spouses – but for our children and their children.

    They shouldn’t have to suffer the same fate as we have, and with a 50% divorce rate in Florida, they certainly will unless you sign this bill.

    Thank you.

  5. I support SB 668 and asking Governor Scott to sign this good bill. I went to Tallahassee to rally for his support. Listen to the voters not the lobbyists.

  6. Gov. Scott, I am a second wife to someone who has been court ordered with permanent alimony even though they were only married 14 yrs. They have been divorced now for 15 yrs. My husband and I have only been married three years this May and I have been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Now our financial circumstances have changed financially as well as her attorney’s constant badgering had him loose his last two jobs. The jobs didn’t want to pay lawyer fees to keep an employee. Please, please, please sign the new alimony bill. It would give us a change at least to ask for reduction. I don’t know how long I have left, but I would like to spend it with my husband in peace, not going back to court and spending monies in lawyers again, and again, and again. RuthAnn Gavin

  7. A good divorce system would focus on minimizing conflict, helping people transition out of marriages, and aspire to treat people equally under the law. SB 668 does this. The current law is a major failure of public policy–it encourages litigation, encourages the use of childrens as pawns in litigation, and unfairly binds people permanently. Only family law attorneys could like the current laws–and of course over the years they have been responsible for creating this broken system.

    1. Minimizing conflict and stop wasting the Judges time in the courtroom to further your free meal ticket. We Fathers must have reform in order to be the good Dads we want to be to our children. The current system promotes litigation and alienation of the Father. The time is now to sign this bill and help the Dads who have been severely abused.

  8. Per Alan Frisher and his Family Law Reform newsletter posted on his favorite facebook site First Husbands Advocacy Group ……Wear a RED SHIRT. It demonstrates unity. RED is associated with energy, WAR, DANGER, strength, POWER, determination, as well as passion, desire and love…. Alan Frisher and his band of bullies and bulliets, support family, marriage and love DESTRUCTION. Why do they call women parasites,whiners at the depends club,female chauvinist parasitic leeches, loser ex wives on the lifetime alimony gravy train, narcissist spelled backwards is asshole, according to this vengeful group, so we are both? Cougar Barbie, bitch, sociopath, psychopath…..barnacles and leeches. This is the men and second helpings that really want to abolish agreements that were made in courts under oath. They care about family? Children? Then why so many posts about male contraception, dads having the RIGHT to, OPT OUT OF PARENTING???? Please look at the First Wives Advocacy Group. Note there are no SMEAR campaigns. We ask for fairness and we have dignity. We don’t stalk these so called reformers and attack their children. They do. We want truth and honesty. From them you get simply nothing but lies. We endorce a task force to be the third party to assess the real needs of children and mothers and fathers. VETO, Govenor Scott, this barbaric bill that only represents nothing but greed and power and yes Alan Frisher, DANGER AND WAR. Good Luck in your future life as a politician. Your business as a Financial Advisor should be questioned as well.

    1. You think you are classy and have dignity yet you call second spouses “second helpings”. Hypocrite is another name I would add to a list describing you. And if you read the comments on the WAG’s page they are anything but nice and dignified.

      1. You’re a horrible person. You are mean, crude and rude. I’ve seen your comments and all you do is attack others as you say they are mean, but you are the one with attitude.

        This (Kelly’s story) is the first time you have ever listened to another’s story and actually backed off. Keep doing that, you’re a lot more relatable.

        1. Dear JUST OBSERVING, Ummmm….pretty sure Kelly is the one who saw the err of her ways and apologized to me. I simply responded in kind because I am an empathetic person. She was sincere and I don’t dislike her. And she doesn’t hide. You could take a lesson from her. I haven’t called anyone “mean”. That is such a high school term. I point out facts. I ask questions. If you don’t like it then stay off the internet. BTW….when you speak out, you are no longer “just observing”

  9. Look how hard reformers have to fight just to get a minimal amount of reform. SB668 doesn’t come close to fixing the egregious violations of people’s lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. It is utterly shameful that human beings have to beg their government for the very rights that same government is supposed to be protecting.

  10. The crowd today was extremely disrespectful, tried to intimidate and bully their way through women and children. One of the sb668 male supporters even had his very young son on his shoulders and the child whacked his head on a chandelier type light due to the father holding him on his shoulders. Once is an accident, twice is neglectful. Those opposed were harassed about children being there but those children were cared for, did not interrupt adults, did not have their heads ‘bonked’ against a chandelier (twice!) and were more grownup than 3/4 of the adults present. The time for screaming at a rally is outdoors. Is it any wonder domestic violence is so prevalent in our state today? Can any of you picture having to do a child custody exchange with someone as rageful as these individuals were? I can because I did for almost eight years. I am lucky to be alive.

  11. Lifetime alimony is absurd. How can NOW, with a straight face, say that women need to be financially supported FOREVER? We’re all grownups and need to be responsible for ourselves.

  12. If we get to the heart of the matter, it turns out to be “equality.” Either you’re for equality or you’re not. Equality has many venues. Parenting is one of the most important areas of life that equality must be exercised. That’s where our children learn about equality. The examples parents set go with children for the rest of their lives. If they see bickering, fighting, court battles and hear the damaging dialogue some mothers and fathers use, it’s no wonder children can grow up with a very distorted view of a healthy marriage. If we want the next generation to embrace equality, we have to begin now. Governor Scott, from what I hear, your mother did an amazing job raising your family. I would argue that she is equal to any man. In honor of your mother, sign SB668. She’d be proud of you!

  13. The reality is, alimony, under the current system, is the continuation of the man’s (usually) provider gender role, the obligation to provide for his partner, well beyond the end of the marraige, meanwhile, the woman (usually) has absolutely all marital obligations absolved, with no new obligations to become self sufficient to replace it. This makes divorce only applicable to the non-breadwinner, leaving the breadwinner perpetually married, and getting nothing for it but debt. This isn’t equality. This isn’t justice.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons