Senate panel sends amended bill eliminating permanent alimony to final committee
No kratom for kids, says Joe Gruters.

'I see families devastated by the process of divorce.'

Legislation to end lifelong alimony is headed to its final Senate committee.

This time around, after repeated unsuccessful attempts to pass similar alimony reform measures in recent years, Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters says his bill (SB 1796) is an improvement on past efforts. The measure would repeal court-ordered permanent alimony, leaving bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative and durational alimony on for all divorces going forward.

The measure on Monday passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and will now head to the Senate Rules Committee. 

“Ultimately this is about predictability,” he said. “I see families devastated by the process of divorce. It seems like the winner at the end of the day is the process itself and those professionals that are supported.”

The legislation would also remove the court’s ability to consider adultery of either spouse in determining the amount of an alimony award.

An amendment tacked on by Gruters and approved by the committee Monday evening would provide parameters to the court to make determinations regarding the amount and duration of alimony.

“By providing these parameters regarding the type, length and amounts of alimony encourages settlement discussions and thus reduces the cost and legal fees of going to court, allowing their families to keep more of their hard-earned money,” Gruters said when presenting the amendment. “This allows recipients to become self-sufficient and move on with their lives.”

The amendment would also allow alimony payers to ramp down payments if seeking to retire, while protecting those deemed vulnerable recipients.

“It’s adding an additional protection for vulnerable recipients if they were left unable to meet their needs and necessities of life. In such cases, a judge could extend the alimony and ensures those whose careers have normal time and age is less than 65,” Gruters said.

The amendment would require the obligor to file a notice of retirement and intent to terminate alimony with the court and recipient. If the payor continues working and earns income despite reaching retirement age, alimony payments would continue until he or she actually retires and reduces active income by 50% of pre-retirement levels, according to the amendment.

Gruters contends that the amendment “allows permanent alimony payers to retire when reaching retirement age.”

Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo proposed an amendment to the amendment that would not allow the legislation to apply retroactively. However, the amendment to the amendment failed, despite support from the Florida Bar Family Law Section.

“These are contracts, these are settlements, these are meetings of the minds between two parties. … You either mean your vows or you don’t,” Pizzo said. “Arrangements have been made based on reliance on those theories, so why would you go back where else do we go back and retroactively apply these things? This is right. It would be an extraordinary measure to go back on things that people have set their lives on.”

The retroactivity of the bill drove opposition from public commenters and lawmakers alike.

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, said the amendment walked back what was progress on this year’s legislation. She said the retirement provisions speak to old agreements, “modifying those agreements retroactively.”

“Unfortunately, the amendment walks back that process in material respects — rather than resolving litigation, in our view, will create litigation contrary to the claims of the proponents of this bill,” Novey said. “It affects existing awards of alimony. It is inappropriate with regard to its treatment of retirement and it treats disparately, in evaluating retirement, the needs of the recipient versus the ability to pay of the payor.”

Another provision in the bill that drew opposition is the presumption that equal time sharing is in the best interest of children. 

“It is contrary to the best interests of children,” Novey said. “It guarantees more litigation, and it will be ugly litigation. And by that, I mean that parents who have very valid reasons for not wanting 50/50 parenting or for that not being appropriate for their children, leaves them with no option.”

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. 

Gruters’ bill died in the Senate Rules Committee last year. 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.

Both drafts of the legislation would take effect in July.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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