Legislation to end lifelong alimony has returned to the Legislature and is making its way through the Senate.
Some lawmakers have made repeated unsuccessful attempts to pass similar alimony reform measures in recent years. This Session, Sarasota Republican Joe Gruters says his bill (SB 1796) is an improvement on past efforts.
The measure on Monday passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-3 on a party-line vote.
“This bill is all about predictability,” Gruters told the panel. “It allows people to live their lives and the goals of bringing fairness to the system.”
For all divorces going forward, the measure would repeal court-ordered permanent alimony, leaving bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative and durational alimony.
Former couples could still agree to permanent alimony in a marital settlement.
Gruters, who is a certified public accountant and sees the result of marital settlements, said he is looking for a solution so that people “don’t become indentured servants forever.”
Currently, long-term alimony can be modified at a judge’s discretion. A 1992 Florida Supreme Court ruling found that retirement counts as a change in circumstances that can modify alimony.
Among other provisions added to the bill Monday, once someone turns 65 or once they retire, they can file to have their alimony decrease 25% per year in a four-year step-down program.
Gruters said there are still tweaks to be made. However, he believes lawmakers are getting closer.
Opponents argue cutting permanent alimony would leave individuals caring for children in compromising positions. Additionally, they say the legislation only seeks to benefit the primary breadwinner, putting the other individual at an unfair disadvantage.
As in years past, the bill drew opposition from several current alimony recipients who feared the changes could alter their modifiable alimony.
Family law lawyer Shannon Novey, representing the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, told senators the group supports how this year’s version separates the bill’s alimony provisions with its parenting provisions. Still, she said problems regarding fairness, existing agreements and retirements were still too great for the association to support the legislation.
Gruters’ bill died in the Senate Rules Committee last year. This year, the legislation must first pass the Senate Appropriations Committee before heading to Rules, its last stop before the full Senate can consider the bill. The House voted 74-38 last year to pass the bill.
This year’s House version (HB 1395), carried by Fort Myers Republican Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, will pass through the House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee and the House Judiciary Committee. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Both drafts of the legislation would take effect in July.