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April 15, 2015
Alimony bill moves in the Senate

The Florida Senate has begun acting on a bill to change the way alimony is calculated in Florida, closely resembling a bill making its way through the House.

Sen. Kelli Starge The Senate Judiciary Committee on March 24 unanimously approved SB 1248, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, which creates formulas for judges to use in figuring alimony awards.

Elisha Roy, representing the Bar’s Family Law Section, told the committee that the section supports the legislation, except for a provision that provides a presumption of a 50-50 sharing of child custody. She said the section will be working on that in future committee considerations of the bill.

Like its House counterpart, HB 943 (see story in the April 1 News), the Senate bill sets two formulas that look at the length of the marriage and the difference in each spouse’s income for calculating alimony. One formula is to be presumptively used in marriages up to 20 years and one is for marriages of more than 20 years. One difference is the Senate bill has a slightly higher multiplier (0.015 vs. 0.0125) for the shorter term marriages.

The Senate bill also does not contain an amendment added to HB 943 that allows adultery to factor into an alimony award. It does allow temporary alimony to be awarded during the divorce proceedings based on the formulas.

Stargel said the bill was not based on legislation from 2013 that cleared the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott because the 2013 bill retroactively applied to existing divorce settlements.

“This bill is a work product of many interested parties,” she said, adding it is “a formula-driven model similar to how we do child support.” She said the goal is to reduce litigation and give predictability to parties on alimony while preserving judicial discretion.

The measure won praise from Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, who practices family law, after he was assured that a judge could depart from the formulas with written findings based on a preponderance of the evidence. He said the formula would provide predictability which is lacking now.

“You look at both parties’ income and you try to reach a difference between them . . . that would put both parties in an equal position after the marriage as far as quality of life,” Soto said. “The retroactivity appears to be out of it. We should clarify on whether it applies to existing agreements.”

The Senate bill ultimately passed 9-0 and next goes to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and then to the Appropriations Committee.

The House bill passed the lower chamber’s Judiciary Committee on April 2.

[Revised: 08-10-2018]