Efforts to abolish Florida’s permanent alimony law are a frequent endeavor in the Legislature, and this year Republican lawmakers are keeping with tradition.
Sen. Joe Gruters is carrying the legislation (SB 1922) this Session, which seeks to eliminate permanent alimony, instead favoring “bridge-the-gap” alimony or temporary alimony. Another major part of the bill affects child custody. Under the bill, child custody would start at the presumption of a 50-50 split between both parents.
Monday’s Judiciary Committee meeting drew scores of divorcees to speak on both sides of the matter. Many of the speakers were speaking for the second time, because the bill was heard last week in a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting where the vote ended up being temporarily postponed.
This meeting the bill made it to a vote, passing 6-4 along party lines, though several lawmakers who voted in favor of the legislation said the bill needed work.
Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Jeff Brandes took issue with a section of the bill that said child custody would start at the presumption of a 50-50 split between both parents.
“The one piece of this bill that I still continue to have concerns with is the 50/50 and that we always put the kid’s best interests first,” Brandes said.
Sen. Debbie Mayfield said the bill would unfairly penalize a parent who is the caretaker of a disabled child.
“I really do have a special place for those women or men that are taking care of those children, and they don’t have the ability to go out and work and provide in the case of a divorce,” Mayfield said. “I don’t know if you’re ever going to get this bill right.”
A representative from the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar spoke against the bill, pointing out permanent alimony payments can already be changed. Florida law allows a judge to modify alimony payments “giving due regard to the changed circumstances or the financial ability of the parties or the child.”
Gruters, who noted that he is not divorced, pitched the bill as “trying to create certainty in the system”.
“Ultimately what this bill does, it’s trying to create certainty in the marketplace. And I will tell you as a practicing tax CPA the families lose. And the more we can create the certainty, the less we can have these litigate forever, the better off all taxpayers and Floridians will be,” Gruters said.
But many of the speakers at the committee meeting saw the bill in a more personal way.
“This bill reads as an angry bill towards mothers and children,” said one speaker. “We need to honor our mothers that stay home.”
“My ex-wife is living on easy street,” protested another speaker.
And apparently, the legislation has already waded into the personal matters of one divorced couple. A woman speaker claimed her husband stopped paying alimony because he saw this legislation had been filed. She claimed her ex-husband is betting on the bill’s passage and stopped paying her alimony because of that.
House companion legislation (HB 1559) is in its first of three committee stops.
The Senate bill now heads to the Appropriation Committee.
Similar legislation passed the floor in both chambers in 2016 but was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.