The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar wants Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto 2022 legislation that would make dramatic changes to state law on alimony, and the sooner the better. Lawyers in that section of The Bar say pending divorce and child custody actions are stalled and piling up.
As of noon Friday, state lawmakers had yet to send the bill to DeSantis to take action. He can approve, veto or let the bill become law without his signature.
Senate Bill 1796 was adopted by the Legislature on March 9. Former Gov. Rick Scott vetoed similar legislation on alimony in 2013 and again in 2016.
Florida Bar News reported Thursday that while SB 1796 remains in limbo, pending divorce and child custody actions are starting to clog the courts.
“The uncertainty right now is impacting many pending cases and causing a backlog,” said Tampa magistrate Philip Wartenberg, chair-elect of The Bar’s Family Law Section, as reported by The Florida Bar publication.
Components of the bill, sponsored by GOP Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota County and part of Charlotte County, and chair of the Republican Party of Florida, include:
— Elimination of permanent alimony both in the future and retroactively, and
— A legal presumption that divorcing parents will share custody of their children 50/50, which also informs how much child support parents pay their ex-spouses
— Eliminating adultery as a factor in determining alimony.
The Florida Bar’s Family Law Section and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers helped negotiate compromise legislation this year in the annual legislative feud over alimony law, but Gruters late in the Regular Session jettisoned that bill and replaced it with the one that ultimately was adopted.
The Family Law Section and the AAML object to provisions in the replacement bill that allow retiring spouses to retroactively renege on sometimes decades-old agreements to pay permanent alimony to their ex-wives or ex-husbands. The attorneys’ compromise bill would have eliminated permanent alimony only in future divorces.
Those attorneys told the Phoenix in March they also object to the 50/50 child-custody provision which would pressure, primarily, women who would rather sacrifice alimony than primary custody of their children.
“I’m concerned about the mother who will give up other things, financial relief, for instance, that might be much needed for her household, just in order to secure the right time-sharing,” Wartenberg told the Phoenix in mid-March. “There is that concern of people coming in asking for as much time-sharing as they can get, so that it could reduce what they pay in child support.”
The ex-husbands behind SB 1796 want to end permanent alimony in future settlements and retroactively — including steeply phasing out payments when they reach retirement age.
“This codifies the right to retire,” said Marc Johnson, chair of Florida Family Fairness, which advocates for ending permanent alimony, in a mid-March interview.
Penni Silverman, who lives in The Villages, said Friday she and other Republican women in that community are just learning about the bill, are alarmed about it and demand that DeSantis veto it if he wants their support in future elections.
“Retroactivity will affect seniors and especially women in The Villages, and that’s his base,” Silverman said. “It would do us a tremendous disservice if he doesn’t veto it.” Silverman said her ex-husband has filed to modify their 1990 divorce settlement to drop permanent alimony they agreed to in exchange for her not getting a share of the couple’s business. If SB 1796 is enacted, she said, she and other ex-wives will face financial hardship.
Jan Killilea, of Palm Beach County, organized a “First Wives First” club a decade ago in response to a “Second Wives” campaign to relieve husbands of alimony obligations to ex-spouses. She and other “First Wives” have for years fought efforts to unravel permanent-alimony agreements made, often, decades in the past.
“In particular, this legislation will harm senior women, who by agreement between the parties stepped away from career opportunities to raise their children, and place them at financial risk,” Killilea said by text Friday.
Laura Cassels reporting via Florida Phoenix.
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May 16, 2022 at 8:27 am
The ability for permanent alimony payers to retire and stop paying alimony was confirmed by the Florida Supreme Court in 1992 in their Pimm v Pimm decision. It’s settled case law.
SB1796 simply codifies this case law into the Florida Statutes and provides protection for recipients THAT DOES NOT CURRENTLY EXIST in Florida law.
Please sign SB1796, Governor DeSantis. The only losers here are predatory litigating divorce attorneys and their cronies.
May 16, 2022 at 11:36 am
Like Roe v Wade?
May 16, 2022 at 9:02 am
Please do not bend to the will of the Florida Bar, who has consistently blocked reform that would bring common sense and fairness to the current laws designed to promote litigation for the benefit of attorneys, and to the detriment of Florida familes.
Jeffrey J Ward
May 16, 2022 at 11:30 am
As a Florida Bar member of many decades, I would like to clarify that the Family Law Section represents itself and not the Florida Bar on the alimony reform legislation. It is unfortunate that the Florida Bar takes no position on this important an issue.
May 16, 2022 at 1:51 pm
The current law is outdated, unfair and unjust. Correct this injustice and pass SB1796.
May 17, 2022 at 8:56 am
Alimony is not fair. I’m retired after 30 years in military and took a second job to prepare for life together. She decided she didn’t want to be married and walked out of the relationship. Took half of everything and I have to continue to work to pay her. I can’t even retire and enjoy what’s left. after bills are paid and alimony I have $100 for the month to enjoy….It sucks!!! Make alimony fair.
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