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Alimony, child-sharing law headed to House floor

Senior Editor Top Stories
Rep. Alex Andrade

Rep. Alex Andrade

A bill to end permanent alimony and set a presumption that divorcing parents should have equal time with their children is heading to the House floor.

HB 1559 by Rep. Anthony Rodriguez, R-Miami, and Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, cleared the House Judiciary Committee an April 6 and next goes to the full chamber.

Rodriguez successfully introduced an amendment that would limit retroactivity in the bill to pending cases that are not on appeal, although one opponent noted many cases drag on for years without going to any appeal.

Rodriguez listed five main factors in the bill: eliminating permanent alimony; creating the right to retire for alimony payors with their alimony payments adjusted accordingly; setting a 50-50 time sharing presumption for children; addressing a new spouse’s income in adjusting alimony payments; and addressing cohabitation issues with alimony recipients.

In response to a question, Rodriguez said the 50-50 child sharing would create a presumption that in a divorce each parent is entitled to half their children’s time, although there would still be other factors the judge could consider.

Beth Luna, representing the Bar’s Family Law Section, said the section opposes the bill. She said it will be difficult for pro se parties to overcome the child sharing presumption because they won’t understand how to collect and introduce the necessary evidence.

“One size does not fit all with families particularly as it comes to time sharing,” Luna said.

She also addressed criticisms from people who say they were unfairly saddled with permanent alimony.

“Permanent alimony is not permanent…. Permanent alimony is absolutely modifiable and the only time it is not is when somebody has agreed to it. You can modify it if you’re retiring, you can modify it if your circumstances change,” Luna said. “The reality of it is this bill is bad policy. It’s going to impact those individuals who are most vulnerable in this state; that’s the elderly, that’s children, that’s low-income families that can’t afford attorneys.”

Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-DeLand, said her parents divorced when she was young and 50-50 sharing would not have worked because of continuing frictions.

“A child needs structure as they’re growing up and doing 50-50 parenting and 50-50 child sharing just doesn’t work for children,” she said. “It needs to be a decision made by the courts and made by the parents and we don’t need to just put it out there that you have to look at 50-50 child sharing before you actually look at what the situation is with the children.”

Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, agreed, saying “We’re setting up a situation…where it’s sort of a one-size fits all approach…as opposed to allowing the court to fashion a child-sharing program that’s in the best interest of the child.”

Rodriguez said with one exception, opponents testifying against the bill were lawyers while proponents “are real people affected by this antiquated law. Don’t just hear what they’re saying, see what they’re doing.”

Several people testified at the meeting that they were saddled with permanent alimony payments that prevented them from retiring and allowed their former spouses to live easy lives.

HB 1559 passed 12-6, which clears the way for consideration by the full House. Its Senate counterpart, SB 1922, has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is pending in the Rules Committee.

Similar legislation has been introduced repeatedly in recent years, and twice the Legislature passed bills, only to have former Gov. Rick Scott veto them.

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