Andrea Reid: Ill-conceived alimony bill deals major blow to Florida first responders

Firefighter Coats and Hard Hats
There are certain professions where individuals normally retire at a younger age.

The 2022 Florida Legislative Session was one that saw significant legislation passed to protect and care for our state’s first responders. Gov. Ron DeSantis led the charge in making sure first responders received pay, bonuses, and incentives in the budget that were reflective of the dedicated service they deliver to our state daily.

Since Day 1, DeSantis has been a champion of law enforcement and first responders.

Unfortunately, there was one bill that moved quickly through the halls of the Capitol that, in theory, appeared to be good in most respects – Senate Bill 1796. Its proponents boasted an end to permanent alimony, a guideline for spouses to follow when determining the amount and duration of alimony, and retirement with dignity.

The bill’s largest proponents are those who stand to gain financially from the modification of their existing alimony awards and pledges.

The bill’s opponents, however, see Floridians’ futures in jeopardy and established contractual agreements in potential upheaval.

What ultimately emerged is a bill that contains a prohibition with far-reaching significance to our law enforcement officers and our firefighters. Specifically, SB 1796 will prohibit Florida’s first responders from modifying their alimony at the ages in which they typically retire. Instead, they must now wait until they are at least 65 years of age before they can ask the court to reduce or terminate their existing alimony awards.

For example, a first responder who began service at 20-25 years of age who puts in 20-30 years of service, will be considerably younger than 65 years old when they retire. Under the terms of this bill, a retired first responder will be statutorily prohibited from reducing or terminating their alimony at the time of their reasonable retirement and will be required to pay their alimony obligation, no matter how unaffordable, until they reach the age of 65.

Under current law, a person’s “reasonable” retirement is a basis to reduce or terminate their existing alimony obligation — regardless of age. This is an imperative component of existing Florida law because it recognizes that there are certain professions where individuals normally retire at a younger age due to the very nature of their work. They are typically high-risk professions, like law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics and air traffic controllers.

SB 1796 binds the reduction or termination of alimony awards to an arbitrary and specific age (65) rather than at a “reasonable” retirement age for a person’s profession. This will undoubtedly, unfairly and disproportionately affect first responders. This is an unwarranted and unreasonable change in Florida law that ignores the realities of the toll high-risk professions take on public servants.

Good public policy demands that people be allowed the benefits of their retirement at an age that is reasonable for their line of work.

I ask that Gov. DeSantis look closely at this ill-conceived legislation, as it does not merely allow individuals to retire fairly as it’s purported to do — instead, it could harm our state’s first responders.

For that reason, among others, I am hopeful Gov. DeSantis will veto this legislation.

___

Andrea Reid is a family law attorney and member of the executive council and the legislative committee of The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar.

Guest Author


20 comments

  • Common Sense

    April 4, 2022 at 5:44 am

    Under current Florida law, First Responder permanent alimony payers likely pay forever as long as they have the ability to pay. It’s a life sentence.

    And it’ll cost them a fortune in legal fees to lose their modification requests.

    Elimination of Permanent Alimony under SB1796 will eliminate the entire problem in most instances for new divorces.

    Why don’t you file a bill next session to specifically address First Responders and further amend the law that SB1796 will fix.

    You’ll have unanimous bipartisan support (instead of fighting reform at every step as your organization has done for years).

    It’s ironic that you are now inferring that SB1796 didn’t go far enough to fix our woefully outdated laws. Wow. But it’s an awesome start for Florida families…. but not so much for divorce attorneys.

    Please sign the Bill, Governor DeSantis.

    • Michael Coburn

      April 4, 2022 at 9:58 am

      I couldn’t agree more.

  • Gerry Landry

    April 4, 2022 at 8:03 am

    There is so much wrong with this bill. It’s like the authors never went to law school. It’s retroactive, and t’s 50/50 custody guidelines are insane… especially when a parent has a child in a dangerous situation with the other parent but doesn’t have the funds to fight a presumption. I wonder why a task force wasn’t done like Mississippi is doing this year. The men who are behind this bill want to really punish their exes and for what? Raising their kids? It really makes no sense. If we throw out stay at home parents our country will finally fail. Veto this atrocious bill.

    • Michael Coburn

      April 4, 2022 at 9:57 am

      This is a great bill that is long overdue. We are moving toward equal rights for both genders. The statement “especially when a parent has a child in a dangerous situation with the other parent but doesn’t have the funds to fight a presumption” will not happen as there are still the factors for child custody that need to be considered and domestic violence is one of those factors. This just lets everyone know that moms and dads start on equal footing. The majority of parents are good, loving, caring parents and this bill puts the presumption that a child needs both parents. I hope the Governor signs this quickly as children need both parents.

    • Michel (Michael) Buhler

      April 4, 2022 at 1:36 pm

      Mr. Landry. If you read the bill, you’d see that the 50/50 presumption for timesharing is what determines the status when the couple can’t agree on timesharing and steps into court. Once they step into court, the judge has 20 factors to consider in determining the best interest of the child – including domestic violence, sexual abuse, as well as where the child’s school is located, which parent is more likely to involve the other parent in the child’s life, the preference expressed by a child, and the overall fitness of each parent. As it currently is, divorce lawyers encourage their clients to fight for 100% of timesharing so they can end up at 50% – which only enriches divorce lawyers but leaves the family; particulary the children, worse off.

  • Marc Johnson

    April 4, 2022 at 10:26 am

    The Family Law Section has now publicly endorsed two major tenants of SB 1796: 1. Elimination of permanent alimony; 2. Reasonable retirement and termination of alimony for alimony payors with modifiable agreements. The glaring omission in Andrea Reid’s commentary is that first responders, and anyone in that situation, can always petition for modification if they encounter a material change in circumstance . . . including a substantial reduction of income. Nothing in SB 1796 alters that reality. The retirement provision contained within the bill was substantially negotiated, with Mrs. Reid at the table. She now contends that the bill doesn’t go far enough. Amazing progress from the divorce bar. The retirement provision in SB 1796 simply streamlines the procedure for retirement for those with modifiable agreements and final judgments beginning at the presumptive age for retirement as established by Florida’s Supreme Court. C’mon divorce lawyers, support the entirely of SB 1796 already, it’s time!

  • Natalie Willis

    April 4, 2022 at 10:35 am

    If the FLS agrees that lifetime alimony needs to go ( As their representative said publically in committee this year) and they also believe that people should have a right to retire , then why are they against sb1796?
    Florida Family Fairness negotiated this bill . And in the original version, retirement was defined by the customary age in ones profession or the Social Security age. At the insistence of the FLS, the age was blanketly changed to 65. And now they are pointing fingers?
    It’s is clear that the family lawyers care ONLY about their own billable hours because the above commentary is grasping at straws.
    We are confident that Governor Desantis will see through the smokescreen and sign sb1796.
    The above commenters are likely alimony recipients under fake names because the essentially the ONLY people opposed to reform are lawyers who profit off family’s misery and the recipients themselves .

    • The Real Blake Taylor

      April 4, 2022 at 8:17 pm

      Everyone agrees that times are different and laws should change. This bill should be for divorces going forward not retroactively. The Florida Bar was on board with this bill but for the retroactivity. I am NOT a lifetime alimony recipient so no need to come at me with that. Your claim that lawyers are against this bill because it will cut litigation is not correct. A retroactive bill will cause a massive amount of litigation.

      • Fairness Foreveryone

        April 12, 2022 at 4:22 pm

        The alimony payers that have been paying for 20 – 25 years are the ones hurt the most. The bill should absolutely be retroactive. What about payers that have paid alimony for over 25 years for a marriage with NO children?

        Consider this example, two kids get married at age 20 and stay married for 12 years. The female has a great job and when divorced, is forced to pay permanent alimony to the ex-husband. Potentially, this woman could pay alimony for 60-70 years. Insane!

        Alimony payers deserve a right to retire. In many cases, the receiver of alimony payments has had plenty of time to get skilled and get a job.

      • Charlie Pope

        April 13, 2022 at 11:42 pm

        So when slavery was abolished those that were practicing slavery were allowed to continue? No! Permanent alimony should never have existed.

  • Alan Elkins

    April 4, 2022 at 11:11 am

    I am a family law attorney with over 40 years of experience in Florida. I know Andrea Reid, and although I like her, she on behalf of the Family Law Section leadership, is dead wrong in her opposition to SB 1796. It is almost beyond belief that the Family Law Section now takes the position that the bill doesn’t go far enough to protect first responders! Bottom line there is nothing in this bill that prevents first responders from seeking a modification of their alimony obligation.

    I will close by saying that many family law attorneys who oppose SB 1796 are doing so to protect their fees. When this bill passes legal fees will decrease along with much of the conflict parties suffer in divorce.

    • The Real Blake Taylor

      April 4, 2022 at 8:31 pm

      There is nothing NOW that stops anyone from filing a motion to lower or end alimony. Seriously Alan, with your 42 years in family law you know what the issues are that run up attorney’s fees. Those issues are not going to change with this bill. Non compliance and contempt is what drag out divorces and is so costly. In my own divorce and the many I’ve seen in my court reporting career getting financial documents to determine alimony can take years. Just ask Marc, he’s familiar with that behavior.

      • Fish Slayer

        April 4, 2022 at 9:29 pm

        Why don’t you work anymore as a court reporter? You seem so knowledgeable? I mean plenty of people with POTS can work, especially in a sitting position where all you do is type…. With that said, sb1796 is going to streamline legal proceedings by creating order and rules which just don’t exist. Do everyone a favor and stop commenting nonsense.

        • The Real Blake Taylor

          April 4, 2022 at 10:11 pm

          How gutless to not use your name. Don’t you believe in free speech, I do. SB1796 does nothing that will speed up divorce nor lower the cost. A retroactive bill of this nature may pass but will never survive the challenges. It has never worked in any other state and it’s not going to survive in Florida.

      • Marc Johnson

        April 4, 2022 at 9:34 pm

        Blake, despite your years of typing transcripts, you should really stay in your lane because your uninformed opinions are completely incorrect. Every single one of them. Now you know more than a respected, accomplished and experienced 42 year family law litigator? You now speak for the Family Law Section? The only issue they have is retroactivity? That’s good to know, because the educated and informed legal analysis proves that SB 1796 is not retroactive. Definitively, from independent Senate staff analysis, House staff analysis and well beyond. You are a perpetual victim who has attacked everyone who doesn’t agree with you. That has been documented very well. You claim to be a victim of the family court system yet you fight to defend it. Some people just like to fight, and I guess you’ll be that way no matter what.

        • The Real Blake Taylor

          April 4, 2022 at 9:54 pm

          I’m in my lane Marc. I’m very informed on family law issues. I haven’t attacked anyone. I simply have an opinion, it’s called free speech. Alan may not want to be honest publicly about what goes on in family court that drags out divorces and costs so much because it doesn’t bode well for your bill. He knows what I’m talking about.

  • Michel (Michael) Buhler

    April 4, 2022 at 1:44 pm

    Having been involved in every meeting with the FLS to negotiate SB 1796, most of which were also attended by Ms. Reid, I find it inconceivable that had Ms. Reid expressed her desire to have a definite earlier retirement age for first responders (which the FLS never did express) that the suggestion wouldn’t have been accepted by the Sponsors and the alimony reform proponents alike. In fact, many of their proposals made it into the bill, including the notice to recipients whose ex spouses wish to terminate alimony upon retirement. The FLS is a rent-seeking guild trying to perpetuate a system that pits a divorcing couple into an adversarial court system so that the divorce lawyers can generate fees by driving up acrimony and relying on uncertain, outdated, and unclear laws that only they want to be able to interpret. It’s time to change the paradigm and put Florida Families first.

  • Alan Elkins

    April 4, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    I’m trying to watch a championship basketball game but I’m caught up in this back and forth. I believe the passage of the bill is a giant step forward for the public. You stated before what you thought drove up the cost of litigation and I will tell you that it’s largely attorneys not being able to agree on things that should be routine. Some of it is clashing egos, some is due to attorneys telling clients what they want to hear and some is the desire to run up fees. Our divorce system needs an overhaul and passage of SB1796 is a start.

    • The Real Blake Taylor

      April 5, 2022 at 1:18 am

      I agree with you that many attorneys want to run up fees but it’s mostly as a result of their clients desire to not cooperate. Too many attorneys love those clients and enable that behavior. You’re a lucky guy to have represented such honorable people. In asking 2 friends who have been judges in family court what they saw most often as the biggest problems delaying divorces and running up fees, the answer was non compliance in discovery and motion’s for contempt for all sorts of things. That is what I saw most often in my job. Family court is a mess. Family court preditory attorneys are a problem. My own attorneys were preditors. SB1796 does nothing to improve upon these problems.

Comments are closed.


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