In early March of this year, House Bill 1409 and Senate Bill 1416 were filed in their respective chambers, which, for the fifth time since 2016, will attempt to reform the alimony laws in the state of Florida. Torpedoed in the past for reasons ranging from retroactivity, which would have had the result of upending thousands of pre-existing settlement agreements and creating a wave of litigation throughout the state, to the inclusion of an equal, 50/50 timesharing presumption for Florida families, alimony reform has been more of a theoretical and political exercise than an actual reality. This year, however, could be much different as it would appear that the legislature, with the help and support of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, has crafted new legislation that may have a great chance of actually passing.
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 a 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. As currently structured, alimony remains largely discretionary, meaning that the each Judge 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.
The proposed legislation would allow courts to grant alimony to either party in the form of “temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, or durational alimony, as is equitable,” and would end permanent alimony as presently known by striking the work “permanent” from the statute. The legislation would also allow judges to consider the adultery of either spouse and take into account the resulting economic impact an award may have when determining such awards. In addition, there would be some much needed guidance to help address what happens when a spouse that has been ordered to pay support retires.
While still early in the legislative session, there are already positive indications that this is the alimony reform package that may actually get passed. This legislation seems to provide some commonsense reforms, including, most importantly, the elimination of permanent alimony. Under this new law, a party could still be awarded alimony for a long duration of time, even decades, however, the deletion of the word “permanent” will be a substantial, and long needed, change as parties and the Courts would be able navigate a term of years rather than a permanent term, which may actually help to resolve more divorce cases. Many times, it is a tough pill to swallow for parties that have exposure to alimony to learn they could be paying for the rest of their lives, so this reform, if passed, may actually lead to the resolution of more divorce cases where one party does not have to negotiate against “forever.” It may be too early to tell, since you never know what other legislation may try to accompany the ultimate and final version of these bills, but if early indications are right, 2023 could be the year significant alimony reform finally comes to Florida.