A bill that would end so-called “permanent alimony” will go before the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee when it meets Tuesday.
The proposal, HB 843, would prioritize durational, or “bridge-the-gap,” alimony over long-term alimony and set a cap at half of the length of a couple’s marriage.
The measure offers a mixed bag of changes — while reform advocates have pushed for an end to long-term alimony for years, HB 843 opens the door for courts to approve alimony for short marriages where current law wouldn’t call for any award. Conversely, the cap could shortchange payees in decades-long marriages where long-term alimony may be appropriate.
Supporters of the bill argue that the need for reform stems from the existence of “permanent alimony,” something that the Family Section of the Florida Bar says does not exist.
Amy Hamlin, Chair of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, says that referring to long-term alimony as permanent alimony or lifetime alimony is misleading.
The proposal would also set equal time-sharing for parents as the standard for courts, which Hamlin and other opponents say is a one-size-fits-all standard that simply doesn’t fit many families.
“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 that changes to the existing system would have on Florida families,” Hamlin said.
However, the Family Law Section does say it’s open to modifications to alimony, such as making normal retirement a change in circumstance for alimony, changes to supportive relationships and codifying in exceptional circumstances that the court can award life insurance.
Currently, long-term alimony can be modified at a judge’s discretion.
Alimony reform has been a hot-button issue for the past several Legislative Sessions. In 2016, a reform bill made it to Gov. Rick Scott, who vetoed it over concerns it would harm children.
The 2016 bill also would have created a legal premise for child custody plans that said children should spend equal time with each parent.
Last month, HB 843 cleared the House Civil Justice Subcommittee with a party-line vote. The Senate companion, SB 1832, has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.