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Governor vetoes alimony legislation

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Florida CapitolNearly three months after it sparked a heated debate in both chambers, Gov. Ron DeSantis has vetoed an alimony reform measure citing its retroactivity.

SB 1796 would have abolished permanent alimony, given ex-spouses who pay alimony a “pathway to retirement,” and created a legal presumption that 50-50 timesharing was in the best interest of a child.

“If CS/CS/SB 1796 were to become law and be given retroactive effect as the Legislature intends, it would unconstitutionally impair vested rights under certain preexisting marital settlement agreements,” Gov. DeSantis wrote in his veto letter, citing Art. I, §10 of The Florida Constitution.

The Family Law Section, and others, lobbied against the measure arguing it would interfere with existing agreements, spark bitter custody battles, and put children at risk.

“The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar has long advocated for legislative proposals that have a positive, productive impact on couples and families that are impacted by divorce,” Family Law Section Chair Philip Wartenberg and immediate past Chair Heather Apicella said in statement posted on the Family Law Section’s Facebook page from the Bar’s Annual Convention in Orlando shortly after the announcement of the veto. “The dissolution of a marriage and the subsequent custody issues are very traumatic for all involved, and it has been our mission to advocate on behalf of those impacted by divorce proceedings.

“From the very beginning of the 2022 Legislative Session, we voiced concerns over the retroactive impact of Senate Bill 1796. If signed into law, this legislation would have upended thousands upon thousands of settlements, backlogging the courts and throwing many Floridians’ lives into turmoil.

“We thank Governor Ron DeSantis for vetoing this measure and for understanding the bad precedent the retroactivity of the bill would have set for settled contracts in the state of Florida.”

(The Family Law Section advocated for this veto on its own behalf. Under Bar policies, sections, which have voluntary membership and dues payments, are given wide latitude on subjects they wish to lobby and sections must also make it clear they are representing only themselves and not the Bar as a whole.)

Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, sponsored the bill in the Senate and Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Ft. Myers, carried the companion in the House. They had called the measure the culmination of a 10-year effort to eliminate permanent alimony in Florida, and insisted it was not retroactive.

One provision would have created a “wind-down” period that would, in certain circumstances, have permitted a retiring ex-spouse, after providing formal notice, to reduce alimony payments 25% per year over four years.

A similar reform bill stalled last year when the Senate objected to the equal time-sharing provision.

In 2016, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed an alimony reform measure that contained an equal time-sharing provision. In his veto message, Scott wrote that the provision would “put the wants of a parent ahead of a child’s best interest.”

Four years before that, Scott vetoed another alimony reform measure, citing concerns about retroactivity and its impact on alimony recipients.

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