‘Fundamentally unfair’: Legislature approves bill ending permanent alimony

alimony fight
The bill has made it through the Legislature after repeated unsuccessful attempts in recent years.

The Legislature has cleared a controversial bill that would eliminate permanent alimony following a 74-42 vote by the House Wednesday afternoon. Now, the legislation is en route to the Governor’s Office. 

The House voted on the Senate version of the legislation (SB 1796), sponsored by Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters, after repeated unsuccessful attempts to pass similar alimony reform measures in recent years. The Senate passed the bill last Friday in a 21-16 vote. 

The bill, which Gruters has promoted as an improvement on past efforts, would repeal court-ordered permanent alimony — leaving bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative and durational alimony for all divorces going forward. Fort Myers Republican Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, who sponsored the House version of the legislation (HB 1395), presented the bill to the House.

“When I took on this bill and decided to work on this emotional, yet critical issue for so many families in our state, I did so with an awareness that the work I was doing was building upon the work that so many have done before,” Persons-Mulicka said. She described the bill as “the most fair and equitable policies that protect our families and children.”

Two measures written in the legislation were the subject of the bulk of debate: a 50-50 time-share presumption and the elimination of permanent alimony on previous, modifiable agreements.

The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar also asked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the bill following its passage because of those controversial provisions, saying the measures will have “a serious impact on existing and pending awards of alimony, and affects court ratified marital settlement agreements without cause.”

“The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar is respectfully asking Governor DeSantis to carefully review the policies in SB 1796 that will negatively impact Floridians – some of our state’s most venerable, including seniors and children — and ultimately veto these unwarranted changes to alimony and timesharing,” Heather Apicella, Chair of The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, said in a statement.

The bill would establish an equal time-sharing presumption in custody disputes. Critics from across the aisle of the measure argued the presumption is not in the best interest of the child. Rep. Emily Slosberg-King, a Palm Beach Democrat and family law lawyer, said the presumption will create “a procedural legal hurdle for self-represented litigants to overcome.”

“Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the child when determining a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule,” Slosberg-King said. “This bill upends that, (a) 50-50 time share should not be considered ideal.”

However, supporters of the equal time-sharing presumption said it would just provide equal footing for parents who walk into the courtroom.

“This has been a difficult policy that we’ve looked at for years and years here, and there’s been evolution for me on this presumption,” said Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican. “What we’re saying is that when you walk into a courtroom in a family law case, you should be walking in on equal footing, and that is not always happening.”

Wellington Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite agreed with Grall, echoing that the legislation would codify the presumption, while the judge would still be charged with determining the best plan for the child.

“The judges are already doing this and we need to codify it. We need to make it part of the law, and we need to understand that that’s what a presumption is for and that is how a presumption operates,” Willhite said. However, he added, “I think it’s a confusing bill, it’s imperfect, like many of the bills that we see.”

However, the Family Law Section is firmly opposed to an automatic presumption of 50-50 timesharing included in the legislation.

“The legislation would affect timesharing agreements for children of divorce and paternity actions,” Apicella said in a statement. “If approved, it will divide a child’s time automatically, 50-50 between parents. Timesharing cannot be reduced to a formula; children’s well-being is at stake.”

Another portion of the legislation that drew debate was its potential to change the stakes of modifiable agreements.

Persons-Mulicka, like Gruters, insisted the bill “is not retroactive or unconstitutional.” But 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.

“This bill is not retroactive, it does not create a right to go in and modify alimony that is not currently there,” Persons-Mulicka said.

Aventura Democratic Rep. Joe Geller called the provision “fundamentally unfair,” arguing it would affect individuals who chose to stay home and raise children in order to allow their former spouse to pursue a career.

“I’ll tell you who this is not fair to — it’s fundamentally unfair to homemakers, man or woman,” Geller said, “who dedicated themselves not only to raising children, but to making the career of their spouses.

“Now it’s gonna be snatched from them,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter if your ex is sitting on his yacht or sitting on millions. If he wants to just retire on the benefits of that career that you help them build, you’re in trouble. It is so fundamentally unfair.”

The Family Section of the Florida Bar also released a statement on the alimony measure.

“Proposed changes to alimony in this bill are retroactive and will affect existing and pending awards of alimony, impacting countless marital settlement agreements and final judgements,” Apicella continued in her statement. “This sets a dangerous precedent for contractual agreements in Florida, and we are deeply concerned that this public policy erases equitability and sets up a system that heavily favors one party, while damaging the other unnecessarily. It will also result in prolonged litigation, drive the cost of divorce up and cause backlogs in an already overburdened family court system.”

Over the course of its committee hearings, opponents argued cutting permanent alimony would leave individuals caring for children in compromising positions. Additionally, they argued the legislation only seeks to benefit the primary breadwinner, putting the other individual at an unfair disadvantage.

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

The bill was amended several times throughout the legislative process.

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

The amendment also would 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.

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.

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]


16 comments

  • Thomas

    March 11, 2022 at 6:24 am

    Paying alimony for life is not fair.

  • Marriage Prisoner

    March 11, 2022 at 10:54 am

    The opposition to this Bill is from the divorce lawyers who know their billable hours are going to plummet. End of story.
    A wife that raises children does not become disabled for life by raising those children. A wife that supports the husband’s career should be able to develop her own career. A stay at home mom is not a lifetime guarantee for a free ride.

  • John

    March 11, 2022 at 12:30 pm

    Married in my 30’s, divorced in my 40’s, still paying at 65.
    The only debt which, left unpaid, automatically subjects you to jail time.
    Sure, I can sue to TRY to get it eliminated, because she doesn’t “need” it. That process starts with paying $10,000 to an attorney, requires a sympathetic judge, and probably another $10,000 if it actually goes to court.
    I was advised, it says permanent, but c’mon, she’ll remarry…
    NO, she is being PAID to NOT remarry!
    PPA ruins lives on both sides. Payors have a monthly reason to dwell on the most negative events of adulthood. Recipients make life decisions based upon this one monetary factor. My ex remains under-employed to this day.
    I’ve already been paying for longer than we were married, with no end in sight.
    Let Ron DeSantis know how you feel.
    Here’s the Governor’s email address: [email protected]

    • J

      March 14, 2022 at 7:22 pm

      Yes yes yes ! All of this ^^^ thank you

      Same here paying 13 years so far (married 17 years) ex cohabiting and never will remarry why end the ‘adult support’ ?!

  • tom cross

    March 12, 2022 at 5:20 am

    i was married 10 years and my ex collected ss and worked part time until i filed for divorce she quit and the judge told me yes she worked but you can not prove she will continue working so pay $750 a month forever i am a machinist working two jobs to survive

  • Frederick Douglass

    March 13, 2022 at 10:10 am

    It’s astounding that in the “Land of the Free” the BAR and its courts still are enable to enforce a perpetuity on payors – a lifetime of payments is beyond even indentured servitude. People go to jail, leave the state, kill themselves, and kill others all because the BAR wants its billable hours. These attorneys are scum. Check out how Florida’s system REALLY works – it not only benefits the BAR, but also the BAR’s court system which receives subsidized payments from the Federal government under Social Security’s Subtitle IV-D section. You can view Xerox’s contract with Florida’s Department of Revenue at: legal shame dot CO (not com).

  • Sheila Ball

    March 14, 2022 at 4:51 pm

    Married 43 yrs and Husband cheated on me. I’ve been disabled for26yrs. and now 66 yrs old living on 1,000 a month. Not divorced yet but seeking permanent alimony, currently getting 400.00 a month temporary alimony. Please understand not all circumstances are the same. I can’t survive on this and I thought I was in a Marriage for life.

    • Frederick Douglass

      March 15, 2022 at 4:21 pm

      Sheila:

      You state: ” I’ve been disabled for26yrs. and now 66 yrs old…”

      If truly the case, alimony will continue per the Bill’s considerations as you’re “disabled”.

      Therefore, may I ask what your position is on this pending Bill?

  • Frederick Douglass

    March 15, 2022 at 4:31 pm

    Further to the point of an earlier comment regarding the Bar’s hypocritical “opposition” arguments, not only do attorneys oppose this sensible reform because it:

    1) has 50/50 timeshare, thereby preventing the attorneys from using the children as pawns, and;
    2) ends the perpetuity of alimony until death awards (which are NOT limited to 17+ years – judges award it for far less time with no basis) which are reason so much litigation occurs.

    “Family” “lawyers” are as corrupt as the courts. The courts make their money by illicitly claiming alimony as “child support” when reporting to Florida’s Department of Revenue. FL’s DOR is, in fact, a division of Xeros run out of a company office near Atlanta, GA that send reports to the Federal government for “child support” enforcement reimbursement (that oops, include alimony payrolls as well) where the Federal government pays Florida’s courts approximately $5.00 for every dollar of “child support” it reports. To be clear, the DOR adds alimony and child support payments together THEN reports both as “child support” to the Feds to get their “free” reimbursement money at a 5:1 rate – and the courts are free to spend it however they want…secretaries, monoliths to their egos (i.e. new Supreme Court building in Tallahassee, a Taj Mahal), salaries, you name it.

    All this occurs under Social Security Act Subtitle IV – D payments. You’ll have to dig but, trust me, it’s there. Check out divorcecorp.com on youtube, A. Looking’s excellent book on Amazon, “Divorce Strategies – How to be alimony free”, and other research.

    It’s ALL a scam for the State Courts to squeeze Federal dollars, and “attorneys” to rape families’ hard earned equity.

    Amerika – home of the “free”…..

  • Frederick Douglass

    March 17, 2022 at 6:45 am

    Folks – the board moderator has censored multiple posts with no explanation. Interestingly, the posts censored provided editorial opinion, no vulgarities, and links to substantiate their positions….only to have the moderator refuse to post them, much less comment as to why. You’re forewarned – ‘Florida Politics’ is an activist, not a reporting site.

    • The Inmates Are Running the Asylum.

      March 17, 2022 at 6:56 am

      By censored, do you mean not releasing them at all or actually editing them? If they are being held for moderation, it’s algorithmic and automated (there’s several WordPress Plugins that do this and FP is a WordPress site).

      The inclusion of links probably “triggered” the hold if this is the case. It because spamming ‘bots’ generally include links trying to sell you something. Usually a human will come along and “release” the post if it’s not automated spam.

      If the posts were never released after a significant amount of time or If the post are “edited” that’s different. Give it a bit and the post probably will appear.

      • Frederick Douglass

        March 17, 2022 at 7:00 am

        Yes, this one: “If the posts were never released after a significant amount of time or If the post are “edited” that’s different.”

Comments are closed.


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