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Florida alimony reform again hits roadblock with governor's second veto

A vocal alimony reform movement across the country has sparked significant changes in spousal support laws in some states. This grassroots movement in the Sunshine State has brought the issue to the forefront and in response, the state legislature has tried to overhaul the alimony system twice - and twice, Gov. Rick Scott has vetoed those bills.

His first veto was in 2013 in response to that bill's retroactive application to already-finalized divorces. Most recently, on April 15, 2016, the governor refused to sign Senate Bill 668, which, while containing a major rewrite of the state's alimony laws, also had a controversial child custody provision: that a judge who faces the decision to divide parenting time (traditionally called physical custody and visitation) between two parents must start from the "premise" that a 50-50 split is in the child's best interest.

The equal time-sharing provision was promoted mainly by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who claimed the provision would make parenting and custody arrangements more fair and predictable, according to The Herald-Tribune. Lee originally wanted the "premise" of equal time sharing to be a rebuttable "presumption."

In response to opposition, the language was changed to "premise," however, according to The Herald-Tribune, attorney Maria Gonzalez, who heads up the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, stated that family lawyers do not see a meaningful difference between a premise and a presumption, and that any presumption would not be in the best interests of children.

After overwhelming pressure from both sides, the governor chose to veto the bill. In his veto letter, he wrote that the equal-time premise could elevate parental preferences to a higher level of importance than that of children's best interests, something he was unwilling to risk.

The governor's two vetoes of alimony reform bills based on arguably unrelated issues suggest that if the legislature wants to put a bill on his desk that he will accept, it should be more narrowly focused just on the spousal support provisions.

After all, the most recent bill would have enacted major reforms like:

  • Ending existing types of alimony, including permanent
  • Establishing formulas applicable in most instances for calculating alimony amount and duration ranges tied to marriage length and the parties' income differences, subject to exception if the guideline amount would be "inappropriate or inequitable"
  • Providing that in most situations the income of the new spouse of an alimony obligor (payor) is not admissible when the court is considering a modification of a pre-existing alimony award
  • Creating provisions for considering the termination or modification of alimony when the obligor reaches retirement, subject to consideration of the circumstances
  • And more

As of the time of this writing less than a week after the second veto, the fallout is still being hotly debated. This is certainly not the end of the matter of alimony reform in Florida. Advocates, professionals and other Floridians will be watching closely for the next move from the state legislature.

Attorney Jerome Ventura of The Law Office of Jerome P. Ventura, P.A., in Pembroke Pines represents clients in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties in divorce and other family law matters.