Alimony overhaul bill clears first House panel
State Rep. Colleen Burton. (Photo: Florida House)

Colleen Burton

A House bill aimed at overhauling and streamlining the state’s alimony rules cleared its first panel Wednesday, despite a retired judge telling lawmakers “bad things are going to happen to nice people” if the measure becomes law.

The Civil Justice Subcommittee OK’d the bill (HB 455), sponsored by Republican state Rep. Colleen Burton of Lakeland, along party lines.

It’s the third time in recent years the Legislature has attempted to change Florida’s alimony law.

Pitted once more against each other are ex-spouses – largely men – who say “forever alimony” isn’t fair, and their former mates – mostly women – who counter that they shouldn’t be penalized for having trouble re-entering the work world because they stayed home to raise children.

Among other things, Burton’s bill “effectively end(s) permanent alimony” by limiting judges’ discretion in awarding alimony after a divorce by providing a preset formula for how much an ex-spouse should get and for how long, according to a staff analysis.

That caused retired Circuit Judge Robert M. Evans of Orlando, who said he had presided over about 25,000 divorce cases, to say the bill has “fundamental flaws that are going to hurt real people.” A representative for The Florida Bar’s Family Law section, however, said it supports the legislation.

It also allows for retroactive modification or ending of alimony, something that forced Gov. Rick Scott to veto a similar measure passed by lawmakers in 2013, saying it “could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

“Current Florida law already provides for the adjustment of alimony under proper circumstances,” Scott wrote in his veto letter. “The law also ensures that spouses who have sacrificed their careers to raise a family do not suffer financial catastrophe upon divorce, and that the lower-earning spouse and stay-at-home parent will not be financially punished.”

That’s the circumstance of Ann Dwyer, a 70-year-old Longwood resident who testified against the bill.

Dwyer told lawmakers she now has to work three part-time jobs in addition to her permanent alimony checks to make ends meet because she doesn’t get enough in Social Security, which is based on lifetime earnings.

Cynthia Wheeler, a nurse from Palm Beach County, went further, calling the measure “disgusting” and saying it would “put people under bridges.”

On the other hand, activist Larry Rutan of Florida Family Law Reform, told the panel that “for too long, men and women (who are) income providers have been strapped with carrying the load for both themselves and their exes.”

Both sides in a divorce need to pull their weight equally, he said: “The only people who would complain about this are people who want income with no work.”

As Burton told reporters after the meeting, “The bill doesn’t provide certainty, but guidance, which would be helpful to every family going through a divorce proceeding … It’s intended to help in what is a very difficult situation for families.”

“Divorce is never easy,” but both sides should be able to walk into a courtroom knowing what the rules are, understanding that the judge makes the final call, she said.

Her bill does not contain equally contentious child-sharing provisions pushed in a bill (SB 250) by state Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican.

His measure, which has not yet had a hearing, creates a legal presumption that “approximately equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is … in the (child’s) best interest,” for instance.

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor 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 [email protected]


11 comments

  • Brian

    November 18, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    Quote from the article: “Dwyer told lawmakers she now has to work three part-time jobs in addition to her permanent alimony checks to make ends meet because she doesn’t get enough in Social Security, which is based on lifetime earnings.”

    CORRECTION:
    Yes, Social Security benefits are calculated based on lifetime earnings, but if Ann Dwyer was married to her husband for at least 10 years, and his income was higher than hers, then her Social Security benefits will be calculated based on HIS income.

  • Terrance Power

    November 19, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Retired 9th Circuit Court Judge Robert Evans, who claims to have overseen over 25,000 divorce cases, claimed in his testimony that once an alimony payer filed for a modification, the payments to their ex-spouse will end.

    CORRECTION:
    This is, of course, not true. House Bill 455, line 617, clearly states that any suspension or reduction in payments is up to the Court to decide.

    Thank you to The Family Section of The Florida Bar for joining Alimony Reform groups across Florida to support this excellent bill!

    • Carey

      November 20, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      Of course The Florida Bar supports these bills, MORE MONEY in Attorneys lined pockets! What a joke…that’s right Terry, you’re in on the jokes the rest of us are the PUNCHlines too.

  • Carey

    November 20, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    Here is the link to the Subcomittee Hearing. Watch around 56:00 for the Family Law Alimony Bill HB 455 Burton. http://thefloridachannel.org/…/111815-house-civil…/

    I’m so proud of Cynthia Wheeler, Representative Lori Berman and others for speaking out on behalf of WOMEN, CHILDREN and FAMILIES that these ridiculous bills will affect! Also, thank you to the legislators who actually READ the bill unlike the bills sponsor, Representative Colleen Burton who did NOT even know what was in her own bill…GET IT TOGETHER FLORIDA and do what is right for the majority NOT the minority of your citizens!

    I’m beyond DISGUSTED by the Florida Legislators who voted in favor of this bill after hearing compeling, honest and heartfelt testimony from citizens and professionals who opposed this measure. The testimoney ;( given by those in favor of this bill was pathetic at best…

    Reformers, here’s another screenshot worthy post for you! I’m making your stalking easy by posting publicly.

  • Lee Kallett

    November 21, 2015 at 12:47 am

    It’s high time for alimony reform. The current antiquated laws have no guidelines. This is my story: https://youtu.be/l523XAgv_vc

  • Ww

    November 21, 2015 at 7:34 am

    “sacrificed their careers to raise a family”

    You mean lazy bitches who stayed at home and watched TV instead of re entering the workforce once their children reached school entering age.

  • Chuck Reinertsen

    November 30, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    Current Florida alimony laws are not a man/woman issue. They’re not a Republican/Democrat issue. They’re not a rich/poor issue or a white/black issue. Alimony is a Worker/Non-worker issue. The ONLY reason an alimony payer pays is because they have “the ability to pay” while the only reason the recipient gets is alimony is they are “needy.” There is absolutely no incentive to help the alimony recipient become self-supporting so the entire family can move on with their lives. If you are a married woman, became financially successful and your husband divorced you, do you think you should support your ex-husband for the rest of his life? The facts are most alimony recipients are physically and mentally capable of employment, a career, or re-marriage. Florida’s current laws strongly discourage marriage, education, and moving on with your life. HB455 is a very good start at equality. If you’re for equal opportunity, you’ll support HB455 and SB668.

    • Janice stilwell

      December 2, 2015 at 3:56 pm

      I worked until I was 68 and worked from day one of marriage raised two daughters and still barely get by. I am against a bill that ends lifetime Alimo y when it was deter ined it was needed based on major diff in income

  • Al B.

    December 14, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    I believe alimony should be transitional. In other words, give the spouse who isn’t earning a wage or a decent wage an opportunity to improve their skills. When the children are grown, it’s time to be self sufficient. My ex-wife is now a successful artist but refuses to modify the divorce decree. We must not be enablers for bad behavior. This changes are long over due.

  • John Grass

    January 11, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    How can I support the passing of HB455 in 2016 ?

  • Wayne

    February 8, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    I an 69 years old living on social security and paying alimony. What a joke!

Comments are closed.


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