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House panel green lights alimony reform

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'Divorce is hard. It can be ugly and hurtful. What I believe this bill does is helps make that process smoother and less ugly.'

John Paul Temple

Rep. John Paul Temple

Alimony reform is now ready for the floor in both chambers as the measure to eliminate permanent alimony and replace it with durational alimony based on the length of the marriage passed the House Judiciary Committee April 11 by a 23-0 vote.

Rep. John Paul Temple, a Wildwood Republican, said HB 1409  provides much-needed finality to the process.

“Divorce is hard. It can be ugly and hurtful. What I believe this bill does is helps make that process smoother and less ugly,” Temple said.

Temple told the committee his bill sets forth a clear process and factors for courts to consider in determining whether to reduce or terminate an alimony award based on the retirement of the payor. He stressed this is not new law and will not negatively impact existing awards of alimony.

“The process and factors are a culmination of 31 years of case law dating back to the Pimm v. Pimm case in 1992 when the Florida Supreme Court recognized that voluntary retirement can be a substantial change to justify a reduction or termination of alimony,” Temple said.

Just as they did for SB 1416, the Senate companion, during its hearing in the Rules Committee April 5, members from the 3,000-member “First Wives Advocacy Group” continued to speak in opposition to the legislation, claiming it is unconstitutionally retroactive regarding existing agreements.

“I signed a marriage settlement agreement under the current law. It’s a contract that I’ve set my life around and the rug is going to be pulled underneath that,” First Wives member Muriel Meuniere told the committee.

Meuniere said her big concern is that the bill does not include a July 1, 2023, start date — an omission she claims makes it retroactive.

Another First Wives advocate, Sue Savage, said this bill would impede current contracts.

“They have stated that they are merely codifying the 1992 Pimm v. Pimm appellate court decision,” Savage said. “That is disinformation. Not all alimony is ordered by a judge and not all alimony is an award.”

Representing the Family Law Section, Trish Armstrong continued to stress that the bill is not retroactive. Armstrong quoted the line number in the bill that indicates it applies only to initial actions.

“This is something that the Family Law Section has been vocal about in the past,” Armstrong said. “If this was unconstitutionally retroactive, if it negatively impacted current agreements, the section would not be in support of it.”

Democratic Ranking Member Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a criminal defense attorney, read the language and agreed with Armstrong that this bill is not retroactive.

“Specifically, [the bill says] the court shall apply this section to all initial petitions for dissolution of marriage or support ending or filed after July 1, 2023,” Gottlieb said. “I like that the legislative intent has been specified today that it is not intended to be retroactive.”

Gottlieb did say, if the measure were strengthened to add “marriage or support only ending or filed after July 1, 2023,” it would tamp down retroactivity concerns.

Rep. Yvonne Hinson, D-Gainesville, noting she is not a lawyer, said there were many issues in the bill she did not understand.

“I’m conflicted about this and have been over time,” Hinson said. “I don’t believe in permanent alimony. People should find a way to become independent.”

Aside from “simply not understanding the bill,” Hinson said she was moved by the women coming up and testifying against the measure.

In his close, Temple addressed Hinson directly.

“Rep. Hinson, I’m not a lawyer either,” Temple said. “So, before I committed to picking this bill up, I had lots of questions. I talked separately to both sides. I finally felt comfortable with where it was at and the intent as ranking member [Gottlieb] talked about.”

Temple said he doesn’t believe in permanent alimony either and stressed that he’s confident this bill is not retroactive.

“I can’t speak to the interpretations of the others that spoke before, but I’ve done my due diligence and I’ve asked multiple different people and made sure that this is not a retroactive negative impact on people who have already made those commitments,” Temple said.

Temple’s remarks quelled Hinson’s fears as she voted up on the bill.

“Thank you so much for getting this across the finish line this year,” Judiciary Vice Chair Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City, said. “I’m grateful also to the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar to be here and agree with it. You have my full support and I look forward to not seeing it next year.”

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