Contentious alimony bill gets second House hearing Tuesday

alimony fight
The measure offers a mixed bag of changes .

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.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


22 comments

  • Alan Elkins

    February 10, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    With regard to your article, the alimony recipient is not getting “shortchanged”. Under the proposed bill the recipient would receive durational alimony for 50% of the length of the marriage. In a 20 year marriage, 10 years of alimony is not a pittance. The idea is to encourage the recipient to become self-supporting. We are in the minority of states which still award permanent alimony.

    As to your statement that the proposed bill might “opens the door” to an award of alimony in short term marriages is misleading as the inference is that it does not exist now. The existing statute currently provides for durational alimony in a short term marriage.

    Lastly, the idea that permanent alimony isn’t really permanent is absurd. An agreement or judgment awarding permanent alimony is forever until modified ( with the exception of an agreement that specifically says it is non-modifiable ). Anyone that has ever filed a Supplemental Petition for Modification knows how costly the process can be.

    With respect to the time sharing provision in the proposed bill, it simply states that the court begins with the presumption that equal timesharing is in a minor child’s best interest. It’s hard to believe that this would be controversial.

    By the way, I’ve been practicing family law in Florida for the last 40 years.

  • Patrick Brady

    February 10, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    HB 843 and its Senate companion should become law. Ms. Hamlin claims that lifetime alimony can be modified. The modification is extremely expensive and there are no guaranteed outcomes because current Florida law allows for way too much “judicial discretion,” that is judicial subjectivity.

    HB 843 provides clear statutory guidelines that will bring fairness and continuity to the application of our laws. Lifetime alimony should be abolished, leaving three other forms of alimony available for an obligee, the person receiving alimony. But the new law, which has been debated for the past eight years, recognizes that there is a terminus to alimony. The culture of dependency must end. The Florida Legislature must pass this excellent legislation to model the 44 other states that have already adopted it. Federalism works, give it a try!

  • Jean-Marie Graham

    February 10, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    I have only recently realized that Florida has a thing called permanent alimony and still cannot believe that this is the policy of our state. Thankfully, HB 843 and SB 1832 will end this archaic practice and update our laws to reflect modern day America. The public policy of the state of Florida should be self-reliance and work, not welfare. Short-term or durational alimony may be appropriate, and the proposed laws will allow judges to decide this on a case-by-case basis while eliminating this terrible concept of permanent alimony that is imposed by the court. It would allow it if the parties involved agree. Current family law benefits attorneys, not Florida’s families.

    YES ON HB 843/SB 1832!!!!

    • Sara Staffman

      February 10, 2020 at 11:12 pm

      Bravo! Couldn’t have said it better myself!!

      Everyone needs to contact their legislators and tell them to bring Florida into the 21st century.

  • Tina Murphy

    February 10, 2020 at 8:36 pm

    I strongly encourage members of the legislature to resoundingly vote YES on HB 843 and SB 1832.

    First, ending permanent alimony only makes sense, like almost every other state in the union has done. Also, it will allow people to retire with dignity. If you care about senior citizens, then vote yes on this.

    Finally, the 50-50 rebuttal presumption is good policy. Unless the parties agree to a different arrangement, there is a 50-50 time-share split that recognizes the importance of mothers AND fathers in child rearing. Ms. Hamlin want’s to keep up is the dark ages of the so-called “tender years” doctrine with its destructive gender role stereotypes. If a parent is alleged to be negligent by the other parent, it SHOULD be proved with evidence not hearsay. Thank you Rep. Andrade and Sen. Stargel for your leadership. VOTE YES!!

  • Marina Baratian

    February 10, 2020 at 8:37 pm

    The alimony reform bill is long overdue and should be passed post haste. This bill has been vetted, debated, argued, tweeked, and amended like no other. It’s time has come . . .

    Lifetime alimony is unfair and should be eliminated. Retirement should be an automatic termination of alimony, allowing senior citizens to retire without depleting their limited resources to convince a judge it is the right thing to do. And we need consistency in how the law is applied. You can take the same case to the same court house, have two different judges hear it and come to two totally different conclusions. This needs to end. I support HB 843!

  • Frank Brunswick

    February 10, 2020 at 8:50 pm

    I am a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and I am totally, 100% in favor of HB 843. Permanent alimony reminds me of Affirmative Action. Telling people that they can never succeed unless they receive special favors or treatment. Nonsense! Permanent, lifetime alimony is never, ever justified.

    More and more women are in fact become breadwinners in the family, and as a consequence, are becoming alimony payers. It is time to leave the 1970’s behind, with regard to our family law statutes, and bring Florida in line with the rest of the country. Legislators, please vote YES on HB 843 and modernize Florida’s family law system.

  • Lori Meadows

    February 10, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    This is what HB 843 will do, reducing the number of divorce filings in Florida by eliminating court-imposed lifetime alimony. Permanent alimony extends litigation and leaves children and families economically and emotionally distraught, and in some cases, ruined. HB 843 brings fairness and modernizes the unfortunate termination of the marital bond.

    Permanent alimony makes everyone involved even more miserable and subject to poverty than before. If child support ends at 18 years of age, then there should be an end to alimony as well. HB 843 and SB 1832 must pass in 2020. Legislators, let’s do this!!!

  • Ms. Helen Lamuers

    February 10, 2020 at 9:00 pm

    Can we just be honest here? HB 843 will save the state of Florida and its families tens of thousands of dollars on each divorce case. There are around 78,000 filings in Florida each year. How? By providing clear, statutory guideline for awarding alimony. The same types of guidelines used for child support!!!!

    Who is the biggest loser? The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar. Why? Because of the statutory guidelines it will reduce litigation by thousands of hours, that is, thousands of billable hours. This needs to happen now. Thank you,

  • Roberta McClary

    February 10, 2020 at 9:32 pm

    Since forty-four other states have done away with permanent alimony, there is plenty of data to support the idea that HB 843 will not be a fiscal burden upon state government. Also, the other 44 states that have curtailed lifetime alimony have not seen an increase of homelessness or poverty for women. Women and children have not been hurt. If it were true, then states like Massachusetts and Vermont would have reformed their reform. They have not. This will be the only time I will say this, but Florida needs to be more like Massachusetts and Vermont! But only on the issue of alimony reform!!

    We are not against all alimony, but in fact are against permanent, lifetime alimony. HB 843 will bring continuity to the application of our laws and will end the culture of dependency. Please support HB 843 on Tuesday, February 11th. Thank you,

  • Andrea Bloom

    February 10, 2020 at 9:40 pm

    Drew,
    I understand that contentious was put into the headline as clickbait. But I watched the January 22, 2020 video of the Civil Justice Subcommittee hearing on HB 843. It was in fact, civil, not contentious.

    Rep. Andrade gave a stunning performance, the Florida Bar representative was weak, ill-informed, and not persuasive. Even after Rep. Andrade submitted a compromise strike-all to address concerns of all the stakeholders, the Florida Bar continues in its intransigence. There is nothing contentious in this bill, alimony has been embraced by more states than legalization of marijuana!! The sky is not, nor will it fall, when HB 843/SB 1832 is signed into law by the inestimable Governor Ron DeSantis!

    • Sara Staffman

      February 10, 2020 at 11:21 pm

      Smart, Andrea. I never thought it about it that why, Exactly right!

  • James A. Johnson

    February 10, 2020 at 9:42 pm

    Florida has a very high rate of divorce compared to other states. In part, this is due to the financial incentive that is in place which encourages divorce. That is the current policy in Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes. Permanent alimony has created an incentive structure that encourages divorce rather than reconciliation. Respectfully, the public policy of the state of Florida should not be dependency and financial destruction of couples who are married, especially with minor children involved.

  • Michelle Frederickburg

    February 10, 2020 at 9:45 pm

    HB 843 is a necessary first step to update Florida’s family law statutes that will provide a disincentive for divorce. It will:

    Eliminate permanent, lifetime alimony
    Encourage self-reliance
    Save Florida and families thousands of dollars each case by providing clear statutory guidelines for judges, curtailing endless litigation that destroys assets and the future of many children
    Provides consistency in the application of the law
    50-50 time-share premise that finally recognizes the importance of father’s in the lives of their children

    Any person who has been married for a long duration is entitled to equitable distribution of assets, 50% of retirement funds, and Social Security. Those spouses who are disabled are entitled to SSDI benefits from the federal government. HB 843 will not burden the state government but will in fact save the state money by reducing litigation. It will also provide a disincentive for divorce. This is good, sound public policy. Legislators please hear the people: vote YES on Alimony Reform in 2020.

  • Matthew Deal

    February 10, 2020 at 10:16 pm

    The 50/50 time-sharing is excellent policy. If you read the actual bill, there is still judicial discretion to deviate from this if there is evidence of detrimental behavior. The “best interests” of children are finally going to be given statutory guidance. I do not understand what is appealing about judges having total discretion to do whatever they want, depending upon how they feel that day.

    Also, it is about time to give fathers an equal footing in our court system. Thanks,

  • William Drader

    February 10, 2020 at 10:34 pm

    Pass this bill! Divorce, outside of the legal framework, is one of the most horrible events a person can endure. Then are introduced to Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes and you are definitely a believer in hell, because you go through it first-hand.

    I have seen dozens of people go thorough this process, and I can tell you that nobody wins. Parents, exes, children, everyone suffers . . . except for the lawyers. Stop the madness and adopt HB 843 and SB 1832. End the misery for countless thousands and let people rebuild their lives.

  • Richard Pivast

    February 10, 2020 at 10:45 pm

    I have been seeing comments from the opponents of reform, and they are a mean and rude bunch. But they keep saying that men are leaving their wives after the wife has spent their entire lives raising the children, only for the husband to find a younger woman. This is bogus. This is not what happens because more than 75% of divorces are filed by women! It is women who divorce their husbands, husbands by and large do leave their wives.

    There is an easy fix to this. If you file for divorce, you are not eligible to receive alimony. Only the people who are filed against can receive alimony. This way, husbands would not be able to dump their wives and leave them without resources. Until then, pass HB 843 and bring some fairness to this outdated system.

  • Alan Frisher

    February 11, 2020 at 10:58 am

    I have been involved in the alimony reform movement for the past 10 years, as a divorced father of 3 children once ordered to pay permanent alimony, as a Financial Advisor and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, as an Author of a top 100 selling book on Amazon entitled ‘Divorcing the System, as a reserarch contributor to the movie “Divorce Corp”, and most recently as the former President of Family Law Reform. The arguments from the Florida Bar over the past 10 years in trying to keep the current law in place have not changed, and dare I say, are exactly the same as they have always been. That said, if current law is so beneficial to society, why has there been such as push for reform these past 10 years? During my tenure as President of Family Law Reform both the Senate and House have declared super-majority votes in favor of reform, twice. The only reason why reform didn’t occur was because of the veto power of Governor Scott, who didn’t want any political controversy during his tenure as Governor. He wanted a clear political path toward his run for US Senate, which he ultimately won. For him, it was a smart political decision, but certainly a cowardly one as he brushed off the will of the people for his own political gain. Governor DeSantis, our current Governor, seems more of a hero for the people, and hopefully will sign the alimony reform bill when it appears on his desk. One thing is certain, Permanent alimony must be eliminated and our Judges must have less discretion as to the amount and duration in awarding alimony. If anything, divorce law must be more predictable and consistant, while giviing judges discretion only for outlying special circumstances. Current law destroys family relationships, and disincentivises alimony recipients from working to their capabilities. Thank you Rep Andrade, and Sen Stargel for running with this ball once again.

  • Sonia Alvarez

    February 11, 2020 at 11:35 am

    Permanent Alimony is really “lifetime”. Who can afford a modification with the legal fees? Even with the best change in circumstances and a supportive relationship in the other side, we lost and went broke. We can’t afford to go back…this is the reality of many men and woman who are paying permanent alimony.
    The truth is that the current laws hurt hard-working families, and the only reason why they are not changing is because it is not in the best interest of most of the Family Lawyers.
    Thanks to Rep. Andrade and Senator Stargel, I hope this bill will pass!

  • Natalie Willis

    February 11, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    The only people who will be “harmed” if reform passes are the Family Law Attorneys who charge 300 to 800 an hour . The current anarchaic system allows these attorneys to litigate ad nauseum. There are no rules and guidelines to follow. Fair reform will create equitable and predictable guidelines. Long term marriages will still receive long term alimony because reform doesn’t eliminate alimony; it merely makes alimony more fair. It’s time that the Family Law Section’s greed is exposed.

    • mike stein

      February 11, 2020 at 3:25 pm

      Excellent observations. The lawyers are the one’s who will suffer.

Comments are closed.


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