The hope of alimony reform seems to surface in Florida each year, much like the famous groundhog who comes out each year to tell us his weather predictions, however; in Florida the forecast for alimony reform always seems to be the same, “not this year.” Once again, there is a discussion in Tallahassee about overhauling Florida’s alimony system, which most observers say would include the elimination of permanent alimony, but like Groundhog Day, the patterns of the past seem to be on repeat.
Under current Florida law, alimony comes in several different forms, including: (1) Durational – lasting for a specific term of years; (2) Rehabilitative – which is designed to help a receiving spouse obtain the skills and education necessary for them to be self-supportive in the workforce; (3) bridge-the-gap – intended to last only for two or three years to help a spouse transition back into being fully self-supportive; and (4) Permanent – which would last until the death of one of the parties. Unfortunately, there is little structure set in these laws that provides uniformity in alimony awards throughout the state, or even within counties, as alimony remains largely discretionary, meaning that the Judges can individually choose not only if they will award alimony, but they will also decide the amount of alimony and how long it should last.
While there are specific statutory factors that the Courts must consider in their alimony determinations, there is no set mathematical equation to help assist the Judges in their determination of alimony amounts and duration, as there is with child support calculations. For child support, Florida law utilizes a mathematical formula, using the parents’ incomes and the amount of time the children spend with each parent, taking into consideration health insurance and child-care related costs, to get to an end number of support that would be uniform regardless of where in Florida your case is decided. Many believe that a similar analysis needs to be applied in alimony determinations.
Some of the issues that have prevented the passage of alimony reform in the past have little to do with the underlying issues of permanent alimony, but rather are centered are other issues, including: (1) How to treat existing alimony payments and specifically if alimony reform laws would be retroactive, which many fear would create uncertainty in existing alimony orders and send an influx of cases back to the Courts; (2) The possible inclusion of timesharing provisions, including, as has been tried in the past, the creation of a presumption of equal, 50/50 timesharing between parents; and (3) the fear that the elimination of permanent alimony may work to shift the costs of support from a former spouse to the State, with the thinking on this being that if permanent alimony is eliminated, then a spouse who may have been eligible for permanent alimony under our now existing laws could then have to apply for government assistance to make up for any alimony they may have lost out on, which would in turn increase the costs to the State.
While discussion of alimony reform in Florida continues, until some of these issues raised above can be adequately and sufficiently addressed, we may not see any substantive reform actually get passed. Attorney Russell J. Frank is a partner at CPLS, P.A., and focuses his practice areas on family and marital law. Contact Attorney Frank today at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss any family or marital legal issues you may be experiencing.