Joe Gruters slightly modifies bill ending permanent alimony ahead of Senate vote
Joe Gruters takes an interest in Hillsborough party politics.

"Under the bill, Florida will join the vast majority of other states by eliminating permanent alimony and replacing it with durational alimony."

After several alterations Thursday evening, the Senate is ready to vote on Sen. Joe Gruters’ controversial bill to end lifelong alimony.

This time around, after repeated unsuccessful attempts to pass similar alimony reform measures in recent years, the Sarasota Republican 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.

“Under the bill, Florida will join the vast majority of other states by eliminating permanent alimony and replacing it with durational alimony,” Gruters said when presenting the bill. “This means, depending on the length of the marriage and the difference in income between the parties, the alimony award will be more predictable than it is today — thus reducing the acrimony and litigation in divorce.”

Gruters did tack on a couple of amendments to the bill Thursday, none of which altered the main purpose of the legislation.

One amendment clarified that a person may not apply for reasonable retirement before reaching the age of 65, a safeguard the Senate adopted.

“We wouldn’t want Tom Brady to retire at 42 and then stop paying alimony,” Gruters said.

Gruters also put forth a successful amendment to address another concern, making it so that “if somebody gave up assets in exchange for permanent alimony, then that spouse will be protected and you cannot modify your agreement,” he said.

Another amendment provided clarity in the custody portion of the bill, providing that a parent who lives more than 50 miles away must move to a home less than 50 miles away to qualify as a substantial change in circumstances.

The Senate also adopted a technical amendment by Gruters to avoid repetitive language in the bill.

Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Lori Berman also tried to alter the bill Thursday with an amendment that would remove the equal time sharing presumption in custody disputes, a portion of the legislation that has been criticized by several lawmakers from across the aisle.

“We are changing the law in the state of Florida with this presumption. We know as the Senate sponsor said, there are other factors that will be looked at, but one there when we create a presumption in law, we create a very large speed bump for getting the court to consider other factors,” Berman said. “It’s silent on the burden of proof required to overcome this presumption.”

The amendment failed, with Gruters defending the 50/50 presumption implemented by the bill.

“This bill merely establishes that when mom and dad walked into court to establish their time sharing schedule, they walk in on equal terms. They may not walk out of court on equal time sharing,” he said. “It is ultimately in the judges discretion of what time sharing plan is in the best interest of the child.”

Berman also questioned Gruters on the floor Thursday about the retroactivity of the legislation. The bill can be applied retroactively on modifiable agreements, a measure that has driven opposition from public commenters and lawmakers. For alimony cases designated as nonmodifiable in the marital settlement agreement, the court cannot apply the bill retroactively, though. 

“In effect, won’t my new modification be governed by this new law, as opposed to the existing law that was in effect when I made my original agreement?” she asked.

Gruters contended that legislative attorneys concluded that the bill “is not retroactive or unconstitutional.”

“The bill does not create the right to modify alimony based on retirement. It merely adds parameters to those existing rights to modification. A party to an existing alimony award knew or should have known that alimony words are generally modifiable in the future,” he said.

Over the course of its committee hearings, opponents argued that cutting permanent alimony would leave individuals caring for children in compromising positions. Additionally, they said 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. Opponents also criticized the bill’s equal timesharing presumption for custody battles. 

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

An overhaul-amendment filed by Gruters and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday evening altered the legislation to provide parameters to the court to make determinations regarding the amount and duration of alimony.

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

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.

“We added all these safeguards the bill to try to make sure that both parties were protected,” Gruters said about the amendment on Thursday.

However, that amendment did draw criticism. Family law lawyer Shannon Novey, representing the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said it walked back what was progress on this year’s legislation. She said the retirement provisions speak to old agreements, “modifying those agreements retroactively.”

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, has cleared its two committee stops and is awaiting its reading in the House. 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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