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Alimony reform bill heads to final House committee

HB 843 would eliminate permanent alimony.

So-called alimony reform legislation advanced to its final committee with divorcees, remarried individuals and others sharing personal testimony on both sides of the bill Tuesday.

The proposal (HB 843) by Rep. Alex Andrade would do away with permanent alimony and would set the presumption of child custody time sharing at 50-50. In the past, the Pensacola Republican has likened permanent alimony to “forced labor” by requiring payors to work past retirement age.

Alimony recipients argued cutting permanent alimony would leave retirement-aged divorcees homeless, but Andrade disputed their claims.

“There are 44 other states that have done away with it in the past, and you have not seen this massed movement to dependence on the state,” he said.

Lawyer Philip Wartenberg, representing The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, said the bill is unnecessary because laws as they currently exist work fine. Courts use discretion, which he feared the 50-50 presumption would upend, to establish fair and equitable rulings.

“The idea that courts order permanent alimony, that’s not actually true either,” he said. “It’s a small number of cases that result in permanent alimony awards right now.”

But even Plantation Democratic Rep. Michael Gottlieb, the most vocal detractor on the panel, felt testimony Tuesday revealed the alimony system’s shortcomings, even if the anecdotes came from extreme cases.

“We’re definitely hearing about certain inequities in the system and the system clearly needs reform, I just don’t think this reform is it,” he said. “I think it’s too far-reaching, I feel that it’s throwing away the baby with the bathwater and that it just doesn’t do necessarily what it sets out to accomplish.”

And House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rep. Clay Yarborough broke from his party to vote against the bill as the panel passed the measure 7-4. He acknowledged the bill is a work in progress, but he feared some provisions, including the 50% the length of marriage cap on durational alimony, may have unintended consequences.

“I just did not feel comfortable putting my name on something where we’re not sure to what extent it may cause some parties out there to have to … possibly have to turn to the state and turn to taxpayers for help,” Yarborough told Florida Politics.

However, West Palm Beach Democratic Rep. David Silvers gave the bill his temporary approval. But if the legislation hits the House floor without addressing some stakeholder concerns, he would change his mind.

Currently, long-term alimony can be modified at a judge’s discretion. And language added to the bill last month prevents it from overriding current alimony deals, a fact apparently lost on some witnesses who feared their current alimony payments would be affected.

Blake Taylor, a retired court reporter turned family court advocate, says one woman she is familiar with who has early-onset dementia fears for her stability if Florida adopts the law.

“As her dementia continues to worsen, she’s going to run out of alimony,” Taylor said. “She’s going to have nobody to advocate for her and she herself says she’s going to end up in a state-run nursing facility.”

1992 Florida Supreme Court ruling found that retirement counts as a change in circumstances that can modify alimony. But Andrade says codifying it in state law would save Floridians from making costly appeals in court.

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.

Last month, HB 843 cleared the House Civil Justice Subcommittee with a party-line vote. The Senate companion (SB 1832), sponsored by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

Stargel previously told Florida Politics she expected her measure to appear in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. But the Senate’s appetite for alimony reform is in question now with two weeks of committees scheduled since then without taking up her bill.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering the Texas House of Representatives for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Alan Elkins, Esq.

    February 11, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    Just to be clear, the Supreme Court case that you refer to (Pimm) holds that retirement is a factor to be considered in an alimony modification…not the sole factor.
    As a family law attorney with 40 years of experience I can assure you that I have had many cases where the court continues to make the obligor pay past full Social Security age .
    Alimony reform is needed to balance the interests of all parties.

    • Henry Williams

      February 12, 2020 at 1:26 am

      You think this bill is balanced? A blanket arbitrary and punitive percentage no matter how long a marriage lasted? Your a lawyer? Sounds more like you pay alimony. So you believe taking away a judge’s right to deviate from this non-formula is a good idea? What if you had a client who was married for 30 years whose husband left her when she has MS? I hope they find a cure in 15 years or she is screwed and on the government’s dime. There has to be some give and judicial discretion is where it is at.

      • Janice Kelder

        February 12, 2020 at 12:38 pm

        Henry,
        You have got it all wrong. First, “judicial discretion” is what is arbitrary, statutory guidelines are not arbitrary. Judges have no “right” to deviate. They are bound to apply the law, not write it.

        Next,the MS patient scenario is bogus. More than 75% of divorces are filed by women. This idea that husbands are filing to leave their sickly wives is nonsense. If someone is ill or disabled, they have been paying into Social Security and Medicare for their whole lives, now it is their turn to collect. Your hypothetical is precisely what the programs were designed to address. Permanent alimony is never, ever, ever justified and judicial discretion is a blank check. There needs to be guidelines that govern the subjectivity of judges.

        • Henry Williams

          February 13, 2020 at 12:13 am

          You are absolutely wrong. Even in Texas permanent alimony is given at the discretion of a judge. When we start taking away a judge’s ability to deviate from something they feel is wrong then things get crazy and people fall through the cracks. Does the 3 strikes your out laws sound familiar? Our country is made of 3 branches and this bill is making the legislature take over the judicial which is unconstitutional.

          • Janice Kelder

            February 16, 2020 at 3:41 pm

            There is nothing unconstitutional about this. Where does it say that the legislature shall not take over the judiciary?

            When we start taking away a judge’s ability to deviate, then we start to end subjectivity and we move closer to equal application of the law. A principle much more important to liberty than a lawyer who got elected. What is your fixation with lawyers who win elections? How do they become omniscient demigods? Good grief.

        • Sharon Meissner

          February 19, 2020 at 3:09 am

          This is an insult to military families and to all Mothers. At some point someone has to care for the children and the person that volunteers for that position should not be penalized and told he or she did not contribute to the overall finacial success of the family unit. Gaps in employment due to pregnancy, delivery recovery and breast feeding are now being penalized? The frequent relocation of military dependents presents a disadvantage for long term continuous employment leading to a pension retirement. Some husbands walk out on wives, only to marry a more youthful person soon after. We do not want our Mother’s disregarded and discarded in this manor. This “Bill” is telling us that Grandmothers don’t deserve stability. Even when it’s the husband walking out. Really??? Regarding the 50:50 Visitation: Many divorced parents do not reside in the same school zones.

    • Harold Finch

      February 12, 2020 at 11:09 am

      Amen!!!

  2. Michelle Fredricksburg

    February 11, 2020 at 7:38 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.

    • Henry Williams

      February 12, 2020 at 1:20 am

      How much do you think someone gets on SSDI? Come on. Leave your wife who’s ill and when the alimony cuts off and she has deteriorated tell her to grab a check (from the government) for less than 1000 bucks per month and wash your hands? Monster!

      • Janice Kelder

        February 12, 2020 at 12:39 pm

        Monster mash?

  3. Sara Staffman

    February 11, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    Great news! I am so glad that Rep. David Silvers has joined the team and makes this a truly bi-partisan bill.

    This reform is much needed, long overdue!

    • Henry Williams

      February 12, 2020 at 1:16 am

      This bill also had bipartisan ‘no’ voters. One of the most respected Republican Reps, Clay Yarborough said no and said it loud. He had good reason to. Without judicial discretion this bill is horrible. Also the formula looks like a fifth grader’s math homework. If you want reform you need to play ball with everyone. This bill screams ‘Men’s Rights’ and I would run away as fast as I could.

      • Ruth Sodor

        February 12, 2020 at 2:13 pm

        Henry,
        You have a knack for coming to conclusions based upon inaccurate information. Almost 50% of households have women as the primary breadwinner. This figure is set to be more than 50% within the next three years according to the PEW Research Center. This means more and more women are going to have to be pay their deadbeat ex-husbands. This is a pro-woman and forward thinking bill that represents the 2020’s, unlike your view that represents the 1920’s.

        • Henry Williams

          February 13, 2020 at 12:16 am

          Actually stay at home mothers are on the rise in Florida. At an astounding rate. With the high cost of childcare and people wanting to go back to traditional family values not to mention the huge increase in home schooling this bill is more discriminatory than ever.

          • Janice Kelder

            February 16, 2020 at 4:15 pm

            Do you get paid for being wrong? It would seem so. Traditional family values . . . is that what you call divorce?

            The marriage rate has been declining for years, and we now recognize homosexual relationships as “marriage.” https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/13/8-facts-about-love-and-marriage/

            There is no return to traditional values. Just those that want private welfare (alimony) for the rest of their lives.

  4. Leigh Johnson

    February 11, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    Did you see the live footage from the hearing today? If you watched the opponents of alimony reform, well its pretty easy to draw a conclusion. I leave that to you.

    But Philip Wartenberg is so incorrect, it is almost as if the Florida Bar has not actually read the bill. Line 306 through 372 discusses the time-sharing provisions and amendments. If there parents agree to a different sharing schedule than 50-50, then the court will abide by it. But if it is contested, then the judge begins at the premise of 50-50 and works from there based upon clear objective criteria. The language actually defines the best interest of the child. The current formula of best interest of the child is totally subjective and means what the judge is feeling that day. Which is absurd. Judges need statutory guidelines; this bill codifies the premise that the best interest of the child is served by continuing and meaningful contact with both parents UNLESS there is evidence to the contrary. Finally, fairness and sanity in our family law statutes.

    • Jimmy Ricci

      February 12, 2020 at 1:31 am

      You sound like you need a sensitivity chip placed back in your brain? Making fun of women who have lost so much is just nasty. Have a little decorum. What am I thinking? Anytime an article about alimony comes out so do the bullies.

      • Janice Kelder

        February 12, 2020 at 12:45 pm

        Making fun? Bullies?

        You are wrong, Jimma. More that 3/4ths of divorces are filed by women leaving their families, not husbands abandoning their wives. You are an intellectual lightweight.

        Move on, friend.

        • Henry Williams

          February 13, 2020 at 12:21 am

          Wow. So women are supposed to stay with their cheating husbands? That’s the number 1 reason women file for divorce if you cared to do any further research. I doubt you will. Also women face poverty after divorce 10 times more than men so there is no upside for these women. It’s a lose/lose situation. You have a mean disposition and should educate yourself from other places than Men’s Rights Associations.

  5. Jimmy Ricci

    February 12, 2020 at 12:53 am

    Here we go again with the men and their second wives wanting to upend all the work the first wife did to get him there. What a bunch of crocks I’m the comments. Just pay the ex and live your life.

    • Henry Williams

      February 12, 2020 at 12:57 am

      Florida laws were updated a few years back and you rarely hear about women or men receiving permanent alimony. Taking away judicial discretion in any form is always bad. That’s why we have judges. Every divorce is unique and should be treated so.

      • Janice Kelder

        February 12, 2020 at 12:48 pm

        Taking away judicial discretion is always good. Laws are made by lawmakers, not judges.

        Permanent alimony is never justifiable.

  6. J. Goldman

    February 12, 2020 at 1:04 am

    Where is the value placed on stay at home mothers? Some arbitrary number made up by a group of truly misogynistic men and their new girlfriends or wives. Yes. That screams fair. Nobody comes out of a divorce feeling good about their settlement. Man up and deal with it. Hurling insults at elderly and hurt women gains you no brownie points. Grow up. You married her and she is your responsibility.

    • Tina Murphy

      February 12, 2020 at 12:51 pm

      You married her and she is your responsibility. Great, but she divorce you and should no longer be your responsibility. SAHM’s are eligible for durational alimony, that could be 10, 15, or 20 years of payments. That is why the bill is moving ahead, because grown ups are in charge Mr. Goldman.

      See you at the bill signing.

      • Jennifer

        February 16, 2020 at 3:08 am

        No bill signing. This hurts everyone and no longer has bipartisan support. Republicans are now crossing that line and voting no. We are already working on the governor and his wife for the veto. Not our first rodeo. When the reformers chose to bully an underage child and keep it up for years, they crossed a line. This bill no longer affects me or my family but after feeling the effects of the people wanting it passed, I will never stop speaking out against it.

        • Sara Staffman

          February 16, 2020 at 2:10 pm

          Wrong, Jen. One Republican defection means it is no longer bi-partisan. You obviously have no understanding of the word. David Silvers is on board, with about eight other House Democrats. In the State Senate, at least three key liberal Democrats have committed their support. Gov. DeSantis is on board, you are too late.

          So, what is left you and your ilk . . . name calling, bullying, and the rest of it. Boring. Keep speaking, it has fallen on deaf ears.

  7. William

    February 12, 2020 at 5:33 pm

    The real issues here are this: family attorneys had it put to them best by a consultant actuary. If you let this bill pass… the law will set the statutory requirements. People will be forced to the table to negotiate. What will you have to argue and fight about in court? This will hurt the family law attorneys in the pocketbook and that is the real scandal and one of the main reasons people should support the law. The system isn’t about what’s best for the husband and wife. It’s not about what’s best for the children. It’s about the fight, and what each sides attorney can slam the other side with, tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of legal fees dollars later.

    As for the presumption of 50/50. I don’t see it staying in the bill but it definitely SHOULD. It’s should be up to the husband and wife to argue what’s in the best interest of the children. Hey, look.. it still give lawyers something to make money on. However there would be a new burden for there to be proof that timeshare should be taken away from one parent for another. Proof that it’s in the best interest of the child.

    As for lifetime alimony… if 44 other states can manage without it and I have not yet seen examples of tent cities in all of those states with divorced women whose alimony has run out then it’s about fear mongering from lawyers who stand to loose fees and spouses who feel entitled.

    The young woman who spoke on behalf of her mother… yeah… listen.. therapy should have been ordered in that case. The bitterness there is thick. Her dad may very well have been a terrible person. The mom very well could have worked to be self sufficient too.

    There is no permanent income guarantee for the payer and the recipient should look for ways to be self sufficient and move on. Alimony should be viewed as a tool to self sufficiency , not a lifetime paycheck.

    • Sara Staffman

      February 12, 2020 at 5:35 pm

      This was a very thoughtful reply. Thanks William!

  8. Bob Sell

    February 12, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    You would have to be some kind of fool to sign a state marriage license

  9. Michael

    February 12, 2020 at 8:59 pm

    I just paid $800,000 in legal bills over the past 2.5 yrs and finally got a MSA signed a few months ago. (I managed to get a 12 yr term despite an 18 yr marriage)
    The system is BROKEN! My “story” would make the new movie “Marriage Story” look like a dream scenario to say the least.
    Predatory attorneys in the family section of the Fl bar are the true villains under the current system. They want only to maintain the status quo and look for the worse case scenarios to sound some kind of alarm. There is plenty of discretion left to the judge if actual evidence is presented to deviate from the presumptions in this bill. This bill would eliminate 80% or more of the unnecessary litigation and expense that I had to endure. I watched the attorneys take every last bit of liquid assets that I had after selling our marital home during the divorce.
    I absolutely applaud representative Andrade. He was very knowledgeable and presented clear and concise rebuttals to the flimsy arguments offered by the family attorneys and also the opposing representatives. Keep up the great work!!!

    I feel so sorry for lifetime alimony payors. Never having closure and having to endure endless modification threats and a big legal fight (ie massive expense) when they are trying to retire Is absolutely terrible.

    • Henry Williams

      February 13, 2020 at 12:24 am

      Actually ….. no. This bill would not allow any deviation from the ‘equation’ if you can call it that. A judge could see a woman fighting with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s and know in 10 years she will be cut off and not be able to do a damn thing and that is criminal.

  10. Patrick Brady

    February 13, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    The bill HB 843 is not controversial at all. What is controversial is current family law statutes contained in Chapter 61 of Florida laws. Florida is only one of six states remaining that has lifetime alimony; forty-four other states have done away with it. HB 843 simply takes us from four types of alimony to three types of alimony, eliminating lifetime alimony only. If people are in long-term marriages, then judges have the discretion to order durational alimony that can total fifty percent of the length of the marriage. If someone is married for thirty years, then they can receive alimony for 15 years. There is nothing controversial about this proposal at all and is why it is a bi-partisan bill.

    Spouses are also entitled to 50% of retirement, half of equity and assets, and would also be entitled to Social Security benefits. If a spouse is disabled, they are also entitled to SSDI and Medicare. The forty-four states that have eliminated permanent alimony have not seen an increase of homeless women. This is a total fabrication. Finally, if children are no longer supported after the age of eighteen, should ex-spouses also have a terminus with regard to alimony benefits? Of course.

    More than 3/4ths of divorces are filed by women abandoning their husbands; men are not leaving their wives. Our current system creates a financial incentive for divorce and a boon to family law attorneys. Stop the madness, vote YES on HB 843/SB 1832. See you in Tally for the bill signing.

  11. BJBear

    February 20, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    Daughter is currently going through a divorce and I have some concerns with this legislation. First, it seems it is being sponsored by folks with assets, who want to protect them (very curious). In my case, father assaulted son, got arrested, pled guilty, got 2 years probation and a permanent injunction preventing all contact. This is a 20-year relationship, often abusive (in private) that left the wife with PTSD and very fearful.
    She is 50 and this would force her into a workforce, with no chance of equitable earnings (after 17+ years of raising children and managing the home, often over the husband’s objections).
    Forcing folks into the workforce seems like a cruel thing to do to someone who made a bad choice 20-years ago and couldn’t find a way out that wouldn’t leave her and the children in poverty. Again, the law seems to work for folks with assets. The “other” folks are the ones who need a judge to have the discretion to arbitrate a solution. I would suggest you not tie a judge’s hands, but allow the flexibility to come to reasonable resolutions. Lifetime alimony seems tough, but, it does offset the loss of earning potential that is often sacrificed in marriage, and that does last a lifetime. I often wonder if the best legislation is legislation that is left unwritten, rather than serving special interests (which this bill does seem to qualify).

    • Adam Bloomberg

      February 21, 2020 at 8:26 pm

      Unwritten law so judges can make up what they want? Absurd. HB 843 would give your daughter 10 years of alimony. If the child is done with support at the age of 18, your daughter can become independent too. Sorry she made a bad choice, but you do not make policy for the 95% based upon the misfortunes of the 5%.

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