** Update: March 9th, 2017
The 2017 Florida Legislative session is officially upon us as two alimony reform bills received their formal introductions in the House and Senate as proceedings kicked off March 7.
Senate Bill 412, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, was introduced in the Senate but has not yet been placed on a committee agenda. Currently, SB 412 has been referred to the Children, Families and Elder Affairs, Judiciary, and Rules committees.
In the House, Lakeland Republican Rep. Colleen Burton’s House Bill 283 received a first reading and is now in the Civil Justice and Claims subcommittee, which met today but did not take up the proposed bill.
The two bills are similar in language in proposing to set calculation guidelines for judges to use in setting alimony, as well as allowing judges to deviate from those guidelines based on certain criteria. In years past, several alimony bills have generated strong debate and failed passage, two of which fell to veto by Gov. Rick Scott.
So far the bill has been endorsed by the National Parents Organization of Florida, but it remains to be seen if any opposition arises as debate kicks off in various committees. We will keep you posted.
** Update: March 1st, 2017
Next week will mark the beginning of a new legislative session that is sure to spark renewed debate over alimony reform in Florida.
Both the House and Senate will again be tackling bills dealing with the always controversial issue that has now spanned several sessions after falling to two governor vetoes and a stalled session over healthcare in recent years.
As the 2017 session officially kicks off March 7, two alimony reform bills – House Bill 283 and Senate Bill 412 – have been referred to various committees. Both bills contain similar language that would set guideline calculations for judges to use in setting alimony in divorce cases. The bills, however, do provide for several circumstances in which judges can deviate from the guidelines. Both bills, if passed and signed by the Gov. Rick Scott, would take effect Oct. 1, 2017.
Currently, HB 283, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, is now in the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee. The committee has not yet released its meeting notice for March 8, but we will keep you posted as to when HB 283 will be heard by the board and of course let you know the outcome of any debate.
SB 412, sponsored by Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is also in committee but did not yet make the agenda for the March 6 meeting of the Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs. We are also keeping a close eye on this bill’s progress, so stay tuned.
Another family law bill did make the March 6 Children, Families, and Elder Affairs committee agenda, which if passed could streamline numerous child time-sharing cases in Florida.
Senate Bill 590, sponsored Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, could add language to Florida law that governs the handling of child support by the Florida Department of Revenue. If passed, when people meet with the revenue department to set up their child support per his or her Title IV-D order, they would also be presented with an optional child visitation plan for unmarried parents, allowing the option of bypassing circuit court.
The goal of the bill is to “encourage contact between non-custodial parents and their children,” Brandes stated in a press release last month. We will let you know how the committee votes on this next week.
** Update: February 2nd, 2017
Alimony reform bills filed in both the Florida House and Senate are now making progress into committee debate. Senate Bill 412 has been referred today to the Children, Families & Elder Affairs, Judiciary, and Rules committees to begin its run through this legislative session. This comes on the heels of its sister bill, HB 283, being referred to the Civil Justice & Claims and Judiciary committees in the House.
Both bills are similar in proposing guideline calculations for judges to use in setting alimony in divorce cases. The bills, however, do provide for several circumstances in which judges can deviate from the calculations. Both bills, if passed and signed by the Gov. Rick Scott, would take effect Oct. 1, 2017.
Scott vetoed a similar bill last year citing language that was included in the 2016 bill dealing with presumption of 50/50 time-sharing for children, an issue that is not addressed in the 2017 bills.
SB 412 is sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who gave this commentary last year in speaking of the 2016 bill Scott vetoed: “I talked to lawyers on both sides of the issue. Both people representing plaintiffs and defendants and they have all said to me that this is the best compromise they can envision.”
Colleen Burton, R- Lakeland, sponsor of HB 283, also commented on the issue last year during debate on the 2016 bill: “The intent of this bill is to reduce litigation therefore preserving the assets of the families and spouses. The bill provides clear guidance. These are guidelines. The courts always have the discretion to look at the entire situation and use that discretion to decide the outcome of any potential adjustments to alimony.”
** Update: January 19th, 2017
First impressions: 2017 Alimony bill season is underway. Florida House Representative Colleen Burton filed a proposed bill on Wednesday, January 18th. As with previous attempts at modifying Florida alimony law this bill will have many people for and many people against the bill. There are few subjects as contentious as what is now known as Alimony Reform. Here are our first impressions of the bill:
Overall Impression: This bill appears more “balanced” than previous attempts and is less ambitious. Opponents of the bill will find fewer changes to hate. Supporters of the bill will find fewer things to cheer on. The bill does not contain anything controversial such as the presumed 50/50 parenting law. Also absent from the bill is the non-starter provision from the initial year: the provision that potentially changed all prior judgments. This alimony bill is a bit watered down, easier to swallow, and people may see it as a less extreme version from prior years.
Out of the Gate Support: There is less legislative support for House Bill 283 right out of the gate. Most bills with bi-partisan support start out with a House version, and a Senate Version. The two chambers normally refine their versions through the committee process and add or change language. Many successful bills end up with identical versions from both chambers that merge into one proposed bill on the governor’s desk. This alimony reform bill is missing last year’s Senate version, previously filed by Florida Senator Kelli Stargel. Stargel’s office has indicated a lack of interest in the 2017 version of the bill. It remains to be seen whether more supporters line up but chances are there will be other legislators that will announce support. We would not be surprised if a Senate version popped up shortly. Also unknown is the current position of The Florida Bar Family Law Section. They were behind the law last year but pulled their support mid-stream.
Changes contained in the proposed alimony bill:
Alimony Guidelines – a repeat from previous years. The guidelines will provide a predictable formula for the calculation of alimony and remove the unpredictability that many Florida judges inject in the process.
Potential Income – a way to define whether a spouse is avoiding work. This represents a stronger method of determining whether someone is not working to his or her potential. This provision will assist potential alimony payers and may also work to their advantage during alimony modification cases.
Duration of Alimony Not Modifiable – Courts may modify the duration of several different types of alimony. The new law would change this and prohibit modification of duration. This is a big change and will provide predictability for both sides of the alimony issue.
Nominal Alimony – Courts have always had the right to award “nominal alimony.” This could be a $1 per month alimony payment that keeps the alimony-door open. It is used in situations where someone’s income is expected to change dramatically sometime after the case is closed. The new bill spells out nominal alimony in detail – a big difference from the past. This makes us think the bill has the support of The Florida Bar Family Law Section because a nominal alimony provision almost had to come at the request of family law practitioners. These changes will not substantially benefit or change rights for either side but they will serve to clarify the law to courts.
Maximum Combined Award – the new bill limits combined alimony and child support to 55% of the net income of a payer. This is a common sense change and will mimic some provisions already in federal law.
Cohabitation / Supportive Relationships – this bill recycled some language from previous versions. Cohabitation, or Supportive Relationships are carefully defined. Claims of supportive relationships will be easier to support. A former spouse no longer would need to live with someone to be subject to a “supportive relationship” claim. Payers of alimony will find it easier to file for modification based on an alleged supportive relationship.
New Spouses after Divorce – new spouses will no longer be fair game in alimony fights. Their income and financial records will be mostly off limits.
Retirement – former spouses paying alimony will find it easier to retire under this new bill. Like former version, HB283 contains language defining the date for retirement, criteria for courts, and a presumption that retirement will affect alimony. The bill also provided temporary relief for retirees by allowing them to reduce or terminate payments while their petition is pending.
There is other language that will affect alimony rights in Florida. But this list represents the major changes. Check back to this page for more detailed analysis and coverage of the proposed law.