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Revamped alimony bill gets the green light from Senate committee

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Sen. Joe Gruters

Sen. Joe Gruters

A measure to allow courts to grant alimony to either party in the form of “temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, or durational alimony, as is equitable,” while removing the term “permanent in nature” from the statutes, passed through the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee March 23.

SB 1416 marks the third time Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters has brought a form of alimony reform to the Senate floor.

“This is back once again,” Gruters said. “Divorce is devastating, but the process is usually more devastating to the families that experience it.”

Gruters explained the current version of the alimony bill is the result of comprehensive negotiations between stakeholders, including the bar’s Family Law Section, that have taken place over the last year and a half.

Gruters said proposed reforms provide divorcing families with more predictability and consistency throughout the state as to the outcomes of their situations by creating a clear, definitive parameter in which the court has the discretion to make determinations regarding the amount and duration of alimony.

“Providing these parameters on the type, length, and amount of alimony can encourage a settlement negotiation which leads to less protracted and costly litigations,” Gruters said.

The 2023 edition of the alimony reform package eliminates permanent alimony and replaces it with durational alimony awarded for a set period based on the length of the marriage. The provisions in the bill are drawn from current laws already on the books.

“The process and the factors in the bill are not new law and therefore would not negatively impact existing awards of alimony,” Gruters said.

Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, offered an amendment to provide the new legislation would not apply to agreements executed before July 1, 2023, and that this bill would not be retroactive.

The amendment, which the Family Law Section opposed, was voted down because, as Gruters put it, both sides have already agreed to the language.

“Just to be clear, if a party is a non-modifiable alimony award there is nothing in this bill that changes that. Both sides have agreed to every single portion of this bill, so this is an unfriendly amendment,” Gruters said.

Berman had additional concerns including prenuptial agreements, the depletion of marital assets, and retirement revisions. Gruters explained that the bill is codifying existing case law.

Andrea Reid, representing the  Family Law Section, expressed support for the measure.

“For 10 years, we’ve been coming up here and fighting this bill,” Reid said. “This is a different bill that not only the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar got behind but also the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.”

Reid also said the current iteration of the bill is not unconstitutionally retroactive.

“I think there’s some confusion about the retroactive application of this bill because there are provisions in this bill that are going to apply to cases that are existing right now and to agreements that exist right now,” Reid said.

Berman was still curious about the number of divorce agreements that are non-modifiable.

“The majority of the agreements are modifiable, but those folks who negotiated for non-modifiable agreements, there are a few and we see them happen with durational alimony,” Reed said. “Very few entire agreements are non-modifiable.”

While Berman voted down on the measure, she says this year’s bill is miles ahead of previous versions.

“This is a much better bill than we have ever seen,” Berman said. “I’m really conflicted. I might get to yes, but today I’m going to be down on it. I want to talk to some more people and get a higher comfort level. Thank you for all the changes you’ve made and the work that you’ve all done.”

The measure now heads to its final Senate stop in the Rules Committee.

Gruters said he’s grateful for everyone who came together to work the bill out.

“Both sides are ready to put it behind us and we’re ready to provide some certainty in this uncertain aspect of the law.”

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