For the last several Legislative Sessions, there has a push for sweeping changes to Florida’s alimony statute that would severely alter our system and cause significant harm to Florida families. This year’s push has come in the form of House Bill 843 and Senate Bill 1832.
These bills would make negative and far-reaching changes to the current alimony system, including doing away with long-term alimony and adopting the presumption of equal timesharing, along with other provisions that discount the concept that marriage is an equal partnership.
First, long-term alimony is already being misleadingly referred to as permanent or lifetime alimony. Neither of these names are a correct description of this type of alimony, as long-term alimony can always be modified at a judge’s discretion, upon a significant change in circumstance or a supportive relationship. The only way that long-term alimony cannot be modified is if the parties agree to it as part of the divorce settlement.
Additionally, by doing away with long-term alimony and prioritizing certain types of alimony, as this legislation does, we’re creating an unfair system that would leave one party severely unprotected and would open up the possibility for alimony to be awarded in short-term marriages when alimony is not applicable and long-term marriages where a statutorily preferred type of alimony might not be the fair solution.
Another troubling part of this proposed legislation is the presumption of equal timesharing, as a presumption of 50/50 timesharing wrongly assumes that all families are the same and should be treated the same.
While evidence-based psychological research has shown that children do best when they have quality parenting time and an ongoing relationship with both parents, there is no single optimal amount of time that benefits every child, as each child has different developmental needs — what works for a toddler may not work for an adolescent.
Moreover, current law acknowledges that children should continue to have contact with both parents, but it is up to the court to ultimately take into account a variety of factors, including anything deemed relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the timesharing schedule.
This fact-driven determination should continue and take into account the many factors that affect the upbringing of a child and not just have a blanket policy that immediately presumes 50/50 timesharing, like SB 1832 and HB 843 would do.
Additionally, creating a presumption of equal timesharing, which now must be disproved to cause a different result, wrongly shifts the burden of proof and persuasion to a parent to prove lack of involvement or unfitness of the other parent — even in extreme cases where there has been abuse or neglect.
The reality is, an equal timesharing presumption rewards all parents, regardless of whether a parent has historically and consistently acted contrary to, or even compromised, the child’s best interests.
While HB 843 and SB 1832 should be rejected primarily because they do away with long-term alimony and adopt the presumption of equal timesharing, among other elements, there are common-sense changes that Florida lawmakers could consider that would improve upon our system while also maintaining fairness to all parties involved.
Common-sense changes that could be made to Florida’s alimony system include making normal retirement a change in circumstances for alimony, changes to supportive relationships and codifying in exceptional circumstances that the court can award life insurance.
The bottom line: Hasty changes to alimony reform won’t yield better results for Florida families. This is an issue that has far-reaching effects for all parties involved; therefore, we recommend seriously considering the real-life impacts changes to the existing system would have on Florida families.
We ask Florida lawmakers to keep in mind our state’s families, especially women, children and seniors, that would be adversely affected by HB 843 and SB 1832 and stand with them against this legislation.
Amy Hamlin is chair of the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar.