By Mark D. Killian
Saying retroactive provisions in a bill that would have overhauled Florida’s alimony laws “could result in unfair, unanticipated results,” Gov. Rick Scott vetoed SB 718 on May 1.
The measure that would have ended permanent alimony and prioritized bridge-the-gap alimony first, followed by rehabilitative alimony, drew both lavish praise and sharp criticism as it made its way to the governor’s desk.
“Current Florida law already provides for the adjustment of alimony under the proper circumstances,” the governor said in his veto message. “The law also ensures that spouses who have sacrificed their careers to raise a family do not suffer financial catastrophe upon divorce, and that the lower earning spouse and stay-at-home parent will not be financially punished. Floridians have relied on this system post-divorce and planned their lives accordingly.”
The Florida Bar’s Family Law Section, which opposed the bill, lauded Gov. Scott for his action.
“Today, we should all be grateful to Gov. Scott for his courage and willingness to stand up for the best interests of Floridians,” said Carin M. Porras, chair of Family Law Section.
“Senate Bill 718 would have left many women with diminished means, depriving them of their vested contractual rights that their ex-spouses agreed to,” Porras said. “The legislation would have also discouraged parents from staying at home to raise their children by creating a serious risk that if they stayed home and later got divorced, the chances of receiving support would be very slim. Further, the legislation would have placed all children in a one-size-fits-all scenario by presuming that it is always in the best interest of the child that the parents be awarded 50/50 time-sharing.”
While Gov. Scott said there were many “forward looking elements” in the bill, he could not support it because “it applies retroactively and thus tampers with settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”
After the bill cleared the Legislature, the Family Law Section formed a campaign called Truth About Florida Alimony to raise awareness about its position and petition Scott to veto the legislation.
During various committee meetings, Family Law Section representatives, lawmakers, and citizens expressed concern that the measure would disenfranchise women who in long-term marriages sacrificed their careers in order to stay at home and raise children.
On the other side, lawmakers and citizens spoke of an arbitrary, unfair system that requires payors to assume support for former spouses who choose not to work.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who introduced the bill, said it would protect women by retaining judicial discretion and introduced predictability and fairness into the alimony award process.
The legislation would have prioritized bridge-the-gap alimony first, followed by rehabilitative alimony.
If the third type of alimony, durational, was awarded, a judge would have been required to make written findings explaining why the other two types of alimony were not appropriate in that case.
The bill also would have specified that the length of time for which durational alimony was awarded could not exceed half of the length of the marriage, unless the party seeking a longer award showed by a preponderance of the evidence that a longer award was appropriate.
The proposed legislation set several other guidelines based on the lengths of marriages.
For short-term marriages, defined as less than 11 years, a rebuttable presumption against awarding alimony would have existed.
Parties seeking bridge-the-gap or durational alimony could have overcome that presumption by demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence that such an award was appropriate.
Clear and convincing evidence would have been required to overcome the presumption when a party seeks durational alimony following a short-term marriage.
In the case of a mid-term marriage, defined as between 11 and 20 years, no presumption in favor of either party would have existed. A party seeking alimony would have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that alimony should be awarded.
Following a long-term marriage — longer than 20 years — a rebuttable presumption in favor of awarding alimony would have existed. The party that would be required to pay alimony would have had to demonstrate with clear and convincing evidence that alimony was not needed.
Additional language in the bill addressed retirement of a potential payor. Under the bill, if a party qualified for retirement before a dissolution of marriage was filed, clear and convincing evidence that a person had means to pay alimony would have been required for an award.
(Associate Editor Megan E. Davis contributed to this story.)