Alimony bill supporters and opponents square off in Florida Capitol
Alimony bill supporters Tarie MacMillan (center right) and attorney Lori Barkus on the steps of the old Capitol Tuesday. (Photo: Jim Rosica)

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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

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]


13 comments

  • Allison Sakara

    April 12, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    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.

  • Sasha Winderbaum

    April 12, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    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.

  • Mike Whitney

    April 12, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Support equal parental rights for all.

  • RuthAnn Gavin

    April 12, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    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

  • Kelly Jarvis

    April 12, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    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.

  • Robert Sell

    April 12, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    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.

  • Eileen Flaxman

    April 13, 2016 at 12:52 am

    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.

  • Mark Neil

    April 13, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    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.

Comments are closed.


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