Brian Burgess: Rick Scott should veto alimony bill because it’s the ‘right thing to do’

alimony fight

Six years ago this month, in a modest office space leased by a Florida businessman named Rick Scott, I had the chance to ask the future governor several probing questions about his political views that any reporter would relish.

But I wasn’t a reporter. I was helping Scott prepare messaging points for the launch of his gubernatorial campaign, and I was treated to a level of personal candor that reporters and the public rarely get to see.

In that brief moment, we talked about marriage and family values, and though he was still learning how to navigate the political minefields that lay ahead, Scott convinced me he shared my social conservative values. In fact, nine months later, that meeting had everything to do with my decision to move to Florida and join his team after he won the election.

In the years that have passed with Scott as governor, he has largely lived up to my expectations as a social conservative, albeit one whose primary focus is on the economic, rather than social issues that affect Florida’s families.

Still, three years ago, relying on both his social values and economic instincts, he vetoed a controversial alimony bill that would have drastically changed the legal landscape governing marriage, parenting and divorce.

Relying on a key tenet of conservatism, the governor cited his concerns about fairness and a consistent regulatory structure that doesn’t change the rules for existing agreements. Scott specifically pointed to the alimony bill’s retroactive application as his core reason for the veto.

Now, he is being asked to sign off on a similar bill that would also apply retroactively to Florida families and children, changing the rules of the game for existing alimony agreements and current marriages, including those already in divorce proceedings.

As one family law judge I spoke with explained, “this bill makes it much more financially attractive for the primary earner to walk away from their family, and makes divorce a financially terrifying prospect for those that sacrifice their careers to take care of their children.”

For this reason alone, the governor is on solid conservative ground to veto the bill.

But there are other compelling reasons for a veto, including the bill’s absurd requirement that judges approach each new case with a one-size-fits-all mentality in which deadbeat parents are initially given the benefit of the doubt.

On the surface, the idea that parents deserve equal time with their children sounds “fair.” But if we think about fairness in transactional terms, where one person contributes at a high level and a second person contributes at a low level, it simply isn’t fair that each should receive the same benefit.

The bill encourages deadbeat parents to ask for more time with their kids in exchange for paying lower levels of child support, even when more time with that parent isn’t in the child’s best interest.

Government should do all it can to guarantee equal opportunities, but it cannot and should not guarantee equal outcomes. When it comes to the well-being of Florida’s children, it is dangerous to assume that both parents should come into a time-sharing negotiation on equal footing, and that judges should be compelled to ignore their past history with their children.

As a family-values conservative, the governor’s decision on this should be an easy one: veto the bill. But many of those who voted to pass it also have something to gain financially: they too have experienced the tragedy of divorce, and their own alimony arrangements could be revisited by the court to reduce their own financial obligations. And so, the pressure on the governor from fellow Republicans is undoubtedly higher than usual.

Still, as Scott himself is fond of saying, I’m confident he’ll “do the right thing” for Florida’s families and children.

***

Brian Burgess is a media relations consultant in Tallahassee. He served as Rick Scott’s top communications adviser for four years, including two years inside the Executive Office of the Governor as Scott’s Director of Communications.

Guest Author


33 comments

  • Concerned Citizens For Alimony Reform

    April 7, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Nice work Brian. How about you reveal what you really do – Lobby. Who’s pocket are you in Again? SB668 is Pro-family and Pro-marriage. Current family law works against family’s and provides incentive for people NOT to marry.

  • Terrance Power

    April 7, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Brian, please disclose your financial interest as a hired lobbyist of The Florida Bae who was engaged to get this bill vetoed. I think you left that little part out.

  • Brian

    April 7, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Good Job there Brian….
    Brian Burgess, the combative communications director for the Republican Party of Florida, is returning to the private sector less than five months after taking over as the party’s top communicator.

    Burgess would not return emails or telephone calls, but was shown the door at the party after he did not answer questions from the Tampa Bay Times about a rescued Labrador retriever adopted by Gov. Rick Scott.”—– Paid talking head.

  • Mike Whitney

    April 7, 2016 at 10:59 am

    This is more senseless propaganda, especially coming from a lobbyist paid by the bar association family law section. Lawyers who have a vested interest in maintaining the profitable corrupt status quo should have no say in the continued destruction of our families. – Sign sb 668.

  • Diana Hagenau

    April 7, 2016 at 11:08 am

    Divorce is terrifying in EVERY aspect, including financial. Let’s be clear; we live in times of EQUALITY. Whether you are a man or a woman, when divorce happens, everybody needs to work. Should there be circumstances where one party isn’t “up to speed”, either in need of education or to have time to bump up their career, fine, award that party temporary alimony to get out of the marriage and on his/her feet. End of story. Becoming divorced means separating your lives COMPLETELY. Holding on to money is the root of all evil. It is BAD for families. Children begin to look at the person who pays as the the money machine rather than just a parent, and the alimony recipient becomes the paralyzed person who is “needy” and does not move on in his/her career (no need) or relationship because if they marry, they lose their alimony. This keeps one party hostage at paying forever, and one in a worthless state of being. I, personally, have been divorced. I wanted nothing but OUT. Period. Separate lives. I financially got by, kicked a career into gear and moved on. When I met my spouse, who then (and still does) pays $6,000.00/month permanent alimony the question was, “how much alimony do you get?” WHAT???? I’m an adult. I got a job. A divorce is a divorce. Pure and simple. Separate, independent lives. Period. This one person pays and one person sucks for life is RIDICULOUS. Gov. Scott needs to understand this and sign the bill. Let Florida families divorce–PERIOD. End of story. Child support, absolutely, all day long. Support your children. Then DONE. I’ve been there, done that. Lived through it just fine. These money hungry lawyers will always lobby for alimony; it’s their bread and butter on the line!!! Don’t buy it, Gov. Scott. Sign the bill for the good of all Florida families.

  • Chris Spears

    April 7, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Brian, this is absolute garbage and misinformation. How can you write such false information and sleep at night. You must be paid by the FL Bar who only wants FL families to keep financing their $3 Billion dollar a year divorce litigation industry. How dare you cast all fathers into a deadbeat status and say they don’t deserve equal parenting because it’s not best for the child. A preponderance of evidence shows that equal parenting is best for the child. Deadbeat fathers and mothers as you like to call it are the minority. If a present wants and takes on equal time sharing it raises that parents personal and monetary contribution to the child. Both parents are considered equal when married, so, why upon entering a divorce is one parent now giving a lot and the other very little? It is a constitutional right that both parents be treated equally and than there are 20 reasons a judge can modify timesharing. And by the way, this bill has no retroactive portion. It allows for modifications which current law allows. And as far as custody that is only applicable to actions filed after Oct 1st 2016.

  • Rob Gude

    April 7, 2016 at 11:36 am

    I doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Brian Burgess is getting paid by one of the groups opposed to SB668. Full Disclosuere: I am not a rocket scientist!
    For Decades the Florida Bar has been making a healthy living off the backs of Florida’s divorcing families. This has got to stop. No person should be enslaved to another for life…and the predatory family law lawyers should not be allowed to financially bankrupt families so they can make a living. Governor Scott should do what the majority of his constituents want by signing SB668 into law.

  • Peter

    April 7, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    What a horrible piece of garbage you are. Spreading the lies.

  • John Patterson

    April 7, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Well spoken. Governor Scott needs to veto this awful bill aimed to make it easier to break up families. Florida doesn’t need to be a breeding ground of older men wanting to leave their long term marriages without having to honor their ex-wives and mothers to their children with financial stability. Being a conservative means that you should have conservative values. The commenters want to be able to just wipe away their obligations to their wives. These are the mothers of their children. They are bums. They ruin lives with adultery and then expect to walk away fresh as a daisy. They aren’t social conservatives and Gov. Scott needs to stay far away from anyone who agrees with this anti-family bill. Family First.

    • annonymous

      April 7, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Mr. John Patternson, so well put!! These men who crafted SB668 are looking for a free ride and easy exit strategy and will encourage other men to think it’s somehow acceptable to treat their first wives and the mother of their children with so little respect for staying home and doing the hard job of being a caregiver for everyone and doing all the unpaid work to keep the schools running and kids excelling. Anyone who supports SB 668 is an abuser in my books and Gov. Scott needs to put this legislation in the trash it never should have been allowed to come to his desk in the first place. As a veteran who served my country for over 20 years this bill is anti-American and I’m ashamed of all who call themselves Americans and support it!

      • Rob Gude

        April 7, 2016 at 4:17 pm

        Oh yeah equality for all is really going to be the destroyer of all families. You are so wrong! SB668 will give divorcing parties equal footing in the courts especially when it comes to raising the children.

      • Robert Sell

        April 7, 2016 at 9:11 pm

        Anonymous, you sound like one of the people 150 years ago who argued to protect slavery because it was an important social institution.

    • Rob Gude

      April 7, 2016 at 4:14 pm

      John Patterson is a no good liar and probably a member of the Florida Bar. He is one of the leeches who sucks the blood out of Florida’s Divorcing Families. Shame of you John Patterson.

    • Robert Sell

      April 7, 2016 at 9:06 pm

      You’re not a social conservative. Your most likely a social fascist who thinks the Constitution and the Bill of rights are outdated and take a backseat to your view of what society should be. You are either clueless about the law and it’s effects on individuals and families or you are purposely misrepresenting the facts to protect your own stake in the status quo.

  • Pro-Alimony "Change is W-A-Y overdo"

    April 7, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Governor Scott is a leader whom should respect the wishes of the many Floridians, Congress and Legislation asking for Alimony-Reform. It is absurd to think of the self-serving Florida Bar, Lobbyist and the freeloaders sponging off their Ex’s trying to rationalize their entitlement!!! Statistics show that 40% of Bread Winner’s are women and there are many stay at home Father’s. It’s high time we move to the new age of living and alleviate the old antiquated ways. The new bill will show a predictable outcome in a divorce with less litigation, better post-divorce family life and equality for all! These self-serving individuals should be ashamed of themselves!!! This Author speaks of talking to Governor Scott “6 years ago”!!! It’s 2016 and change is way overdo! He most definitely is not looking out for the welfare of others… How disrespectful and what a disgrace!!!

  • John Youngman

    April 7, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Right now, there is a massive financial incentive for the lower earner to walk away from a marriage. I wonder why the divorce rates are so high? There is a massive financial incentive to fight over custody time. This bill addresses both issues, and is way past due. Sign SB668 into law.

  • John O

    April 7, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    How is it dangerous to assume two parents are equal BEFORE hearing any evidence to the contrary? Nowhere does this bill even come close to suggesting that a judge “should be compelled to ignore their past history with their children”. In fact, the moment past history is known, it becomes a factor which can be used to deviate from 50/50. This new bill is also LESS retroactive than current statutes in that it establishes some additional guidelines that must be met before a modification is in order. Seems clear that you either haven’t read this or only read what you wanted to.

    • JH

      April 8, 2016 at 5:21 am

      The problem lies in the fact that there are too many cases, litigation is never ending many times, and judges want an easy way out. This will force victims of abuse into mediation which is NOT ever recommended with abuse victims. It is also a problem because if for some reason the judge actually does the right thing and keeps the child away from an abusive parent, he/she has to have written findings regarding that. Divorce files are public record. How fair is it to the child that all of the dirty laundry is aired in their parents divorce file. When that child becomes an adult, those records could potentially be there for everybody. To embarrass and quite likely keep that child from employment opportunities, chances for love and more. This is NOT good for children.

  • Robert Sell

    April 7, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    What goes on in Florida family courts is NOT “social conservatism”, it is social fascism and is in direct conflict with the Bill Of Rights.

  • Robert Cohen

    April 8, 2016 at 8:53 am

    Permanent alimony destroys traditional marriage. Wives have a huge financial incentive to divorce to get a free generous income for life (how is that a conservative value?). Re-marriage has gone away because the ex-wife would lose income. If the ex-husband remarries, the second wife is obligated to pay the first wife permanently. The next generation of men sees all this, and is refusing to marry. End this madness and sign the bill!!

    • Karen Librizzi

      April 8, 2016 at 10:28 am

      Really a divorce so she gets half the debt and some alimony. Oh yeah I’m sure women r jumping all over that one. Get a life!

    • Wyman Oxner

      April 8, 2016 at 12:21 pm

      You are absolutely right, Robert! Permanent alimony payments are causing the destruction of family values. People are choosing to just live together rather than being caught in the awful trap of permanent alimony payments. As more and more people learn about permanent alimony they are going to be getting married less and less. The state cannot legislate love and they should not be involved in a matter that should be between two people in the first place. Strengthen the family unit by ending permanent alimony. Transitional alimony or fixed term alimony would be the proper way to allow a divorced party to get back on his or her feet. It should not last forever. No one should have to face jail time in their old age because they can no longer make payment’s to an ex-spouse. It’s not a gender thing….permanent alimony is just wrong.

  • Shelly Bradley

    April 8, 2016 at 9:08 am

    What an idiot… so fathers should be punished for working by paying alimony and NOT deserving to have their kids because they worked to support their lazy wives that stayed home LONG after they needed to.

  • Celine

    April 8, 2016 at 10:12 am

    Hmmmm, fairness. What a great concept! Perhaps we should apply that reasoning to financial earnings as well. If the parent who was unemployed or under-employed because he or she was at home with the kids deserves alimony to bridge the gap, then the primary breadwinner deserves to get to be a parent and not just a visitor. Now that’s what I call “fairness”. Thanks for introducing that idea!

    “But if we think about fairness in transactional terms, where one person contributes at a high level and a second person contributes at a low level, it simply isn’t fair that each should receive the same benefit.”

  • Jeffrey McAvoy

    April 8, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Please disclose your conflicts of interest before stating opinion as fact.

    The fact that you are being paid to sway politics when you held a pseudo political office yourself is extremely telling.

    People have been eyeing this bill for years and are very well educated who you are, who the governor is, and who the FLS.

    Full disclosure or your opinion is invalid and you drum up extremely ethics question.

    • JH

      April 8, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      So someone who has a vested interest in ‘reform’ i.e.: a payor or the subsequent partner of said payor is not biased? Funny!

  • Stephanie

    April 8, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    Mr. Burgess, who opposes 668, is a lobbyist. Mr. Frisher, originator of this bill, is also a lobbyist. Mr. Burgess has been paid probably less than a few months to oppose this bill (whether it aligns with his private beliefs or not); Mr. Frisher has been earning a living as a lobbyist on this particular bill for nigh on a decade.

    And here you have an explanation for why this bill has tanked every single go. In comparatively sane states, like Massachusetts, New York, and (soon to be) Vermont, this sort of acrimony and strife between the two sides never happened because the state legislatures went about family court reform in the judicious way: the legislature appointed a task force of experts–judges, lawyers, women’s group representatives, academics–to study the family court system and tender their recommendations. Alimony reform came soon after, based on those recommendations, and most stakeholders felt represented.

    Now, consider the situation in Florida: we have a teeny group of alimony payors, lead by the well-paid lobbyist Frisher, who have obstructed every attempt and request to form a task force. They cobbled together this bill, brainstormed it on their own to meet their own selfish needs, without allowing any opposing, balancing opinions. The ONLY group they had on board, the Family Law Section, dumped them when they added the child sharing provision, for good reason. Child sharing is not a part of ANY recent alimony reform bill: it’s a highly complex, contentious part of family law that (in every other state considering changes EXCEPT Florida has had a separate task force making recommendations).

    Ask them why Mr. Burgess or the Family Law Section (their old allies) or women’s groups or family court judges or social workers or everyone else who opposes this bill, and they foam at the mouth and bark, “They are all about the money,” hilariously and instantaneously oblivious to their own seedy motives and history. Ask them about its provisions, and they can’t defend them AT ALL.

    Look at the comments: anyone see any explanation of the guideline length? Any explanation why they would include a 10% trigger that deceitfully and maliciously negates any alimony reward? Any defense of this bill’s retroactivity? (They deny, they dance around it, because they cannot defend it.)

    I encourage everyone to read the bill. There are valid reasons that so everyone except a few alimony payors oppose this disastrous bill. Let’s have a task force that crafts fair laws for everyone.

  • Janell

    April 8, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    Such nonsense. I’m socially conservative. How does removing the father or mother from a child’s life benefit that child or society? The research shows it doesn’t. Divorce will happen. Putting common sense legislation in place that helps to lessen the use of the children as pawns is ethical and the moral, right thing to do. Ps-isn’t it unethical to publish an article and not reveal the writer’s compensation for lobbying for the cause they are writing?

  • Jamie Karl

    April 10, 2016 at 6:45 am

    I had to look up what this weird shit alimony was, we don’t have it in New Zealand. Honestly seems really bizarre. What does your ex’s financial life have to do with you? Get a job, go on a benefit. How weird and medieval that some people consider this an entitlement. So weird. Honestly I find it impossible to comprehend this weirdness. Come into the 21st century, where women are doing it for themselves, and men can too. So weird.

  • Tom Donovan

    April 10, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Brian, you are an idiot. Deadbeat women who refused to work during the marriage should not be rewarded, nor should children be exposed to them. They are horrible examples of how to be a good human being. Instead, they should be forced to work at least full time after divorce, receiving zero alimony and paying child support to their ex husbands who were responsible enough to provide for the children during marriage.

    • Karenlibrizzi

      April 11, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      VETO SB 668!! Don’t listen to the majority of a men’s rights group. Aka hate group. Now coming into Fl and posing as Floridians pushing for reform. Payors of alimony would get to stop paying while they file for modifications leaving recipient with no income. They already can’t save any money per Fl laws. Then they r expected to defend themselves without income to hire a attorney. Oh and nots forget they wrote the law so payors income isn’t discoverable but recipients is subject to a ten percent trigger even if they make thousands less then the payor. That’s just a couple of issues with this bill. Yet nobody here mentions these things. They think they can just sneak them in and no body will notice. Well we noticed and we are calling it what it is. Garbage!!

      • [email protected]

        April 12, 2016 at 6:16 am

        Honestly I am mra and I don’t hate anyone – but I don’t like this bill. Preserving ailimony in any form, and the softing of the fair parenting split make it a poor compromise. Ailomony is medieval. We don’t have it at all in my country and it seems stupid and regressive. Your finances are not your ex’s responsibility they are yours. My solo mum, worked a job, never took a benefit, never argued custody, never took chi support and did a great job of raising two kids. Shame on all you folk with your greedy hands out.

Comments are closed.


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