Will proposed alimony reforms pass in Florida this year?

Two Florida bills seek to establish alimony award guidelines and let supporting spouses request the reduction or termination of payments upon retirement.

Alimony reforms have recently been weighed or implemented in several states due to concerns that existing laws treat spouses unfairly. As many Sarasota residents know, Florida lawmakers have previously considered but failed to pass legislation to reform state alimony laws. This year, lawmakers will have another opportunity to change these laws, according to The Sun Sentinel. Two new bills seek to establish guidelines for alimony awards and effectively limit permanent alimony.

Reasonable, predictable awards

According to supporters, the reforms outlined in either bill would result in alimony awards that are more uniform and fair. At present, alimony is awarded based on various arbitrary considerations. When spousal maintenance awards are large or long-term, they can be burdensome to paying spouses. To address these issues, the bills would enact the following changes:

  • Supporting spouses could request the modification of alimony payments upon retirement. Spouses might qualify for a reduction or complete termination of alimony obligations.
  • A paying spouse's obligations would be capped at 55 percent of his or her income. Child support obligations and alimony payments could not collectively exceed this threshold.
  • Courts would not be able to raise alimony payments based solely on increases in personal or family income. In other words, a paying spouse's remarriage or salary increase would not automatically lead to greater alimony obligations.
  • The length of the marriage would help determine the amount of alimony awarded. Spouses whose marriages lasted less than 20 years would receive smaller or shorter-duration payments. Spouses who were married for less than two years would only be eligible for alimony in unusual circumstances.

According to WLRN News, under both bills, family law judges would determine alimony awards using income and marital length as guidelines. In many cases, these guidelines would effectively eliminate permanent alimony. The guidelines would also guarantee more predictable alimony awards.

None of these legal changes would apply retroactively to existing divorce judgments. However, family law judges would not be precluded from making changes to existing alimony orders.

Outlook for bills

In 2013, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed an alimony reform bill out of concern for current alimony recipients. Specifically, Gov. Scott worried about how reforms would affect spouses who depend on alimony, according to The Sun-Sentinel. This year's bills, which aren't retroactive, may have better odds of passing. However, critics contend that the proposed reforms still adversely affect older spouses. These concerns could reduce the likelihood of either bill passing.

In the meantime, in divorces involving alimony, knowing what to expect can be challenging for either spouse. Spouses who are seeking alimony or may be responsible for paying alimony may benefit from consulting with an attorney. A family law attorney may advise a spouse of current state laws. An attorney may also be able to help a spouse present his or her situation to improve the likelihood of a favorable settlement.

Keywords: divorce, alimony, spousal support, maintenance