The 2020 version of the battle over permanent alimony permitted under Florida law began Thursday in a Florida House committee with reform proponents denouncing the “life sentences” of permanent alimony and others charging that the concept is being misconstrued.
The House Civil Justice Subcommittee is taking up the nearly annual contentious matter marked by the notion that Florida is one of only a few states in the country where judges may award permanent alimony.
On Thursday Boca Raton marital and family law attorney Alan Elkins, speaking for Florida Family Fairness, which annually spearheads alimony reform pushes, denounced permanent alimony as unfair, charging it creates a “culture of dependence” for those receiving it and a “life sentence” for payers. He contended that Florida’s guidelines are so broadly interpreted by individual judges that the questions of how much alimony should be paid, and for how long, vary tremendously from judge to judge, even within any given judicial circuit, and shouldn’t and needn’t do so.
“It’s unreasonable. There’s no consistency to it. It’s not fair,” Elkins said.
He was countered mainly by Andrea Reid, also a Boca Raton marital and family law attorney, who spoke for the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar Association, who called some of Elkins’ points “just patently not accurate.” She contended that proposed reforms that seek to impose mathematical equations would negate a court’s consideration of a variety of personalized factors now mandated for consideration when alimony is set.
“What I take exception to is this concept that there are no guidelines. We have very specific guidelines. What they are not is a mathematical equation,” Reid said. “We trust the judiciary.”
The Florida Legislature has taken up proposals to revise or replace permanent alimony almost annually for several years, and nearly did so in 2016 before then-Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the bill. The last overhaul of the state’s alimony laws came in 2010. They were tweaked in 2011.
There is no alimony bill filed for the 2020 Florida Legislative Session. Yet the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, chaired by Republican state Rep. Bob Rommel of Naples, held a workshop to consider crafting such legislation for 2020.
“We understand this is an extremely sensitive issue on both sides,” Rommel said Thursday.
Barbara DeVane, lobbyist for the Florida National Organization for Women, welcomed Reid’s comments, contending that in previous years the Florida Bar had not been so allied with NOW’s opposition to the proposals to abolish or water down permanent alimony in Florida.
“I have heard so many terrible stories from so many women I call ‘the first wives’ that I speak for session after session when the bills come up,” DeVane said.
“Every year people talk about all the stakeholders coming together for a bill. No. The women that I speak for are, to me, the most important stakeholders discussion,” DeVande added.
Alicia del Rey of Marion County, also representing Florida Family Fairness, turned traditional gender roles upside down when she spoke of how she’s being forced to pay permanent alimony to a man whom she said was an abusive and irresponsible husband who “squandered our assets” and has never been able to hold a job.
“I would have never imagined that I would be paying permanent alimony to my abuser ex-husband and be forced to pay him for the rest of my life,” she said, recalling how in 2011 she finally got the courage, after 30 years of marriage, to seek divorce. “Thus far I have paid this man over $41,000, the money I need to pay my mortgage, plan for retirement and fund my goal to go back to graduate school to provide a better life for myself and my family.”
“The most discouraging part is there is no end in sight, and I have no path that allows me to free this abusive ex-husband,” del Rey said.