MIAMI -- Once again, legislation is making its way through the Florida legislature with ending “permanent alimony” as the centerpiece of House Bill 1395 and Senate Bill 1796.
“Versions of these bills have been appearing annually since Rick Scott’s administration and have been held up due to caveats embedded in the proposals,” said Harriett Fox, founder of Miami-based Harriett Fox CPA (www.harriettfoxcpa.com). “The controversial nature of ending what has been a staple of divorce settlements in Florida and throughout the country has been a roadblock. Permanent alimony, under the new bill, would be replaced by a formula based on the length of marriage.”
Fox is well-versed In family law and divorce proceedings as a leading forensic accountant with additional specialties in civil and commercial litigation.
“Regardless of this year’s outcome, family law attorneys and accountants must be aware of both sides presented by proponents and opponents of this controversial legislation which can significantly affect strategies in what are frequently emotionally charged cases,” she said.
“Eliminating permanent alimony is as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a financial one. Keep in mind that Florida is one of the few states in the country that currently allows permanent alimony. The others are New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Oregon.”
As with most legislation, there are varying opinions from those most affected. Those in favor of the bills, refer to permanent alimony as a form of welfare that discourages financial self-sufficiency. Opponents cite that the non-working spouse (male or female) have sacrificed careers in favor of assuming most of the childcare roles. Therefore, starting or resurrecting careers is an unlikely path to financial security.
Fox points out that both opinions have merit. Some of the opinions include:
- Years ago, the vast majority of breadwinners were men who were responsible for paying alimony. But things have changed as more women are now the major earners. This results in a growing number of women being subject to providing alimony. This, too, has been a major cultural shift resulting in changing views of alimony and rationale for supporting this bill.
- Despite these statistics, it’s pretty clear that alimony payors can be at a distinct disadvantage due to current permanent alimony laws in Florida.
- One of the major sticking points this year and in the past is that legislation includes the assumption that parents would share custody, now known as time-sharing, on a 50/50 basis. Opponents of the law claim that the inability to negotiate time-sharing results in an inability of the non-earning spouse to get an equitable alimony settlement. Today, the judge evaluates up to 20 factors to decide issues related to time-sharing. This process would remain under the current law, but opponents fear the 50/50 assumption would supersede current standards.
The bill has made its way through several sub-committees with changes being made along the way.
The benefits of the pending legislation, according to Florida Family Fairness, an organization that is spearheading this reform, include:
1. Provide for an end to permanent alimony in Florida (Florida is only one of only a handful of states still providing for permanent alimony);
2. Limits durational alimony based upon the length of the marriage;
3. Creates a reasonable alimony formula, similar to the child support guidelines, that defines obligations and reduces costly litigation;
4. Allows all alimony payors the right to retire and terminate/decrease alimony;
5. Closes loopholes in the current laws that encourage gamesmanship and excessive litigation;
6. Creates uniformity and consistency statewide to provide consistent outcomes;
7. Reduces lengthy and costly litigation that preserves the marital estate for the benefit of the parties and their children, and not the divorce lawyers.
The premise here is that the new bill would allow both parties to transition to independence and self-sufficiency while not draining funds due to costly litigation.
However, other groups like the National Organization of Women believe the 2022 reforms could substantially cause financial ruin and would be devastating to stay-at-home mothers who sacrificed careers. This rationale will also apply to men as more husbands are staying at home.
“Regardless of the outcome, accountants, lawyers, and families must be prepared to deal with a new set of challenges if legislation becomes law,” said Fox. “As we wait for Governor DeSantis to make a decision, all parties should do their homework so they’re ready for these drastic changes in divorce law.”
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