Tag: Alimony Reform Update

Alimony Reform, Marriage Length, and Permanent Alimony

Does the length of your marriage matter for alimony anymore? Some people are asking that after a recent decision by a Florida appeals court re-wrote the rules for measuring what a long-term marriage is. The Regular Session of the Florida legislature convened in January, and alimony reform is a hot topic in Tallahassee.

Trouble in Tallahassee

The Florida House of Representatives is currently convening in Tallahassee to debate House Bill 843 on Dissolution of Marriage. The bill makes a few changes to the divorce statutes, especially alimony.

The bill also redefines the amount and duration for bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, and durational alimony, prohibits ordering a spouse who retired prior to a divorce to pay any alimony, except temporary alimony, unless the court determines otherwise and allows payors to modify alimony up to 12 months before his or her anticipated retirement.

The bill removes presumptions about the length of a short, moderate, or long-term marriage, eliminating permanent alimony (but allowing it if agreed to), prioritizing bridge-the-gap alimony, followed by rehabilitative alimony, before any other form.

Meanwhile, across town in Tallahassee, a recent appeals case from the First District Court of Appeal may throw fuel on the fire. After 16 years and 11 months of marriage, a husband asked for dissolution of the marriage.

The judge granted permanent alimony to the wife. The husband appealed saying the trial court should not have awarded permanent alimony, and should instead have given her durational alimony.

Why? The husband argued they were only married 16 years and 11 months — that’s just one-month shy of the statutory presumption of a “long-term” marriage under Florida statutes. But the trial court treated his marriage as if it were a long-term marriage of 17-years or more – even though it clearly was less.

Florida and the Length of Marriage

In Florida, the duration of a marriage always played a very important role in divorce cases. I’ve written about the types of alimony awards available in Florida before. For instance, Florida Statutes dealing with alimony specifically limit the type of alimony awards based on the duration of the marriage.

For determining alimony, there is a rebuttable presumption that a short-term marriage is a marriage less than 7-years, a moderate-term marriage is greater than 7-years but less than 17-years, and long-term marriage is 17-years or greater.

Florida defines the duration of marriage as the period of time from the date of marriage until the date of filing of an action for dissolution of marriage.

In addition to alimony, the duration of marriage is also a factor in property divisions. When a court distributes the marital assets and liabilities between the parties, the court begins with the premise of an equal split.

Changes to Alimony?

The appellate court ruled that despite the statute, being one month shy of the statutory definition of “long-term” was a de minimis period given the length of the marriage, and that the family law judge was allowed to overcome the presumption as to the length of the marriage to qualify it as a long-term marriage.

In Florida, we have a rebuttable presumption that a long-term marriage warrants an award of permanent alimony. This court argued that even if the parties’ marriage falls into the “grey area” between a long and a short-term marriage, the family judge can consider other factors beyond the duration of the marriage.

Other factors can include the earning capacity of the recipient of alimony. For instance, there was evidence that the wife’s health precludes employment. While she was just 53 years of age at the time of the divorce, her age was not a valid basis to deny permanent alimony absent evidence her relative youth would allow her to earn income sufficient to support a lifestyle consistent with that she enjoyed during the marriage.

What impact will this decision have on the Legislature, since they are considering scrapping permanent alimony altogether, and re-writing the rules around what the duration of a marriage is?

The new bill will require courts to consider the standard of living established during the marriage, and make specific consideration of the needs and necessities of life for each party after the marriage is dissolved, including a rebuttable presumption that both parties will inevitably have a lower standard of living than that which they enjoyed during the marriage.

The court of appeals opinion is here.

 

Florida Alimony Reform Sausage

It’s been said laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. If true, then it’s best you not read the two new Florida alimony reform bills recently introduced into the Florida House and Senate. For the unafraid, below are a few provisions of the House bill worth watching.

Alimony Reform

The Current Chorizo

In Florida, alimony is awarded to a spouse when there is a need for it, and the other spouse has the ability to pay for alimony. As I have written before, alimony can take various forms.

For example, alimony can be awarded to “bridge the gap” between married and single life. This is usually a short-term form of alimony, and in fact, can’t exceed two years.

Alimony can be rehabilitative – to help a party in establishing the capacity for self-support by developing skills or credentials; or acquiring education, training, or work experience.

Durational Alimony is awarded when permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate. The purpose of durational alimony is to provide you with economic assistance for a time after a short or moderate term marriage, or even long marriages, if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis.

Permanent Alimony is awarded to provide for your needs and necessities of life as they were established during your marriage, if you lack the financial ability to meet your needs and necessities of life following a divorce.

The House Hot Dog

Alimony reform is a nationwide phenomenon.

Currently, there are two bills in Florida trying to be passed to amend our alimony statute and impact other statutes. However, many state bills, like Florida’s, are in progress, or are constantly evolving.

This year’s two bills fundamentally change many family law statutes and cases. Briefly, what we consider to be long and short marriages would change. This is an important measuring stick, because the types of alimony granted can change depending on the duration of a marriage.

Right now, for purposes of determining alimony, there is a presumption that a short-term marriage is less than 7 years, a moderate-term marriage is greater than 7 years but less than 17 years, and a long-term marriage is 17 years or more.

Under the new House bill, a long-term marriage would be 20 years or more, a mid-term marriage would be more than 11 years but less than 20 years, and a short-term marriage would be a marriage of less than 11 years.

Another proposed change concerns the type of alimony. Right now, when a court determines the type and amount of alimony, the court weighs several factors, including, the standard of living, the age and the physical and emotional condition of the parties and sources of income available to pay alimony.

Under the new House bill, a trial court awarding alimony would have to prioritize an award of bridge-the-gap alimony, followed by rehabilitative alimony, over any other forms of alimony. Additionally, the new bill eliminates permanent alimony.

The Equal Time-Sharing Bratwurst

Florida has a public policy that each child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or divorce and tries to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.

However, there is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying a parenting plan of the child.

The new House bill would dramatically alter the law. The proposed bill would make it Florida law that equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is in the best interest of the child unless the court finds one of the stated reasons not to.

The House bill is available here.

 

New Alimony Penalty

The GOP proposed tax plan has something for everyone. Including a huge surprise for divorcing couples: a tax penalty for divorce. The new law may dramatically change how we treat alimony for taxes, and whether your case will settle.

As Business Insider reports, the tax bill released last week could drastically change the tax treatment of alimony. Currently, alimony is tax-deductible for the paying spouse and taxable to the receiving spouse.

But if you get divorced after the plan is enacted, that would change: Alimony would be paid out of after-tax dollars and would be tax-free to the recipient.

This change would tend to increase the total amount of tax paid by divorced couples, since the ex-spouse who pays alimony is typically the one with the higher income and who faces a higher tax bracket.

Florida Alimony

In Florida a court can grant alimony to either party. There are different types of alimony a court can order: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or permanent, or any combination of these forms of alimony. In any award of alimony, the court may order periodic payments or payments in lump sum or both.

The court can even consider the adultery of either spouse and the circumstances in determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be awarded.

But the very first finding the court has to make in determining whether to award alimony is whether either party has an actual need for alimony or maintenance and whether either party has the ability to pay alimony or maintenance.

If so, the court must consider all relevant factors, including, the standard of living established during the marriage; the duration of the marriage, the age and the physical and emotional condition of each party, and the financial resources of each party, among other factors.

Alimony Tax Reform

I have written about alimony and taxes, and alimony reform proposals for many years. This time the proposal comes from Congress, no the Florida Legislature.

All told, the proposed change under the tax proposal would lead to the federal government collecting an additional $8.3 billion in taxes from divorced couples over the next 10 years, according to the bill summary.

Arguably, imposing such a substantial tax penalty on divorce could encourage people to stick it out and make their marriages work. But it could also financially trap people in unhappy marriages.

One argument for this change is that it would be easier for the IRS to administer, and IRS data shows that alimony sometimes shows up deducted on one ex-spouse’s return but is not reported as income by the other ex-spouse.

The Impact on Divorces

There are many ways to settle a divorce case and render a judgment. And, one of the most important facts to consider in any divorce is the tax deduction for alimony payments.

Overwhelmingly, divorces include some sort of alimony payment provision. The problem for the new tax bill is that if couples are less likely to reach an agreement on alimony, divorce proceedings could become more gridlocked, time consuming and expensive.

The Business Insider article is here.

 

Florida Alimony Reform: R.I.P.

Alimony reform in Florida will have to wait. With 35 days left in the Legislative session, the bills are not getting a hearing in either the House or the Senate, meaning the alimony reform bills will likely die in committee.

Florida Alimony

In Florida, alimony is awarded to a spouse when there is a need for it, and the other spouse has the ability to pay for alimony. Alimony can take various forms.

For example, alimony can be awarded to “bridge the gap” between married and single life. This is usually a short term form of alimony, and in fact, can’t exceed two years.

Alimony can also be rehabilitative – to help a party in establishing the capacity for self-support by developing skills or credentials; or acquiring education, training, or work experience. The underlying goal is to get you into a position where you can take care of expenses without assistance.

Durational Alimony is awarded when permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate. The purpose of durational alimony is to provide you with economic assistance for a time after a short or moderate term marriage, or even long marriages, if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis.

Permanent Alimony is awarded to provide for your needs and necessities of life as they were established during your marriage, if you lack the financial ability to meet your needs and necessities of life following a divorce. However, a court has to find that there is no other form of alimony that would be fair and reasonable.

Although people often think of alimony as paid on a monthly basis, it can be awarded in a lump sum or be a combination of the two. In making a determination of whether or not to award alimony, the court may consider non-monetary factors.

Alimony Reform

Alimony reform is a nationwide phenomenon. A few states have already limited alimony, especially in cases where the marriage is less than 20 years.

Florida is not alone in moving for alimony reform. Currently, there are two bills in Florida trying to be passed to amend our alimony statute. However, many state bills, like Florida’s, are in progress, or are constantly evolving.

Unlike child support, which is common when a divorcing couple has kids, alimony awards have always been very rare, going from about 25% of cases in the 1960s to about 10% today. In one study of Wisconsin cases, it was only 8.6%.

Florida’s Alimony Reform Bill

This year’s bills would have provided judges with a set of guidelines for calculating alimony, and would also have provided judges and lawyers reasons to deviate from the proposed alimony guidelines in special cases.

I wrote about the failure of the alimony reform bills before. First, in 2015, when the Florida House of Representatives made a surprising end of their session, killing all bills.

Last year, Governor Scott vetoed a similar bill, but last year’s bill had a major difference. Last year’s bill added a provision that made equal timesharing a presumption in every case. Because of the equal timesharing presumption, the governor vetoed last year’s bill.

Withering on the Vine

For people who oppose alimony reform, there is good news: the bills are dead for the year. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the Naples Republican who’s carrying the Senate version (SB 412), this week said the chair of its first committee of reference refused to hear the alimony bill.

“Chairman Garcia determined that he was not interested in hearing it and I respect that decision,” Passidomo said. “I don’t think leadership weighed in on it.”

Sen. Passidomo also noted that the House version of the bill (HB 283), sponsored by Lakeland Republican state Rep. Colleen Burton, has also not gotten a hearing. Given that the House subcommittees are wrapping up work this week, that virtually dooms the legislation there.

The Florida Politics article is available here.

 

Alimony & Short Marriages

Married at First Sight’s Sonia Granados and Nick Pendergrast are filing for divorce “after almost a year of marriage.” The length of your marriage may impact the amount and length of alimony.

Married at First Sight

According to US Magazine, the could reports:

“We are sad to share that after almost a year of marriage we have decided to separate and file for divorce. Thank you in advance for your love and support through this difficult time! We look forward to growing and continuing to learn about ourselves from what we still consider to be a meaningful experience with MAFS.”

Florida Alimony

Alimony is governed in Florida by a statute. The alimony statute requires judges to consider several factors, including the duration of the marriage.

For purposes of determining alimony, there is a rebuttable presumption that a short-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of less than 7 years.

Florida Alimony Reform

However, Florida has been struggling in an alimony reform battle for years. I have been reporting on the alimony reform movement for years. This year, the Legislature is considering a bill that sets out a formula for judges to use when deciding alimony payments.

The House Alimony Bill, which would take effect October 1st if passed, would set guidelines for judges to set alimony based on the duration of marriages and the incomes of the parties. If a judge deviates from the guidelines they would have to explain why in writing.

The bill replaces permanent alimony with new formulas based on the length of the marriage, and the spouses’ incomes. Those formulas help set the amount and duration of the payments.

Also, the alimony reform bill re-defines marriages for purposes of alimony. Marriage would be divided into “low end” and “high end” marriages based on the length of the marriage.

Under the proposed alimony reform bill, in marriages of 2 years or less, there is a rebuttable presumption that no alimony shall be awarded.

For purposes of calculating the presumptive alimony amount range, 20 years of marriage or less shall be used in calculating the low end and high end for marriages of 20 years or more.

Short Marriages & Alimony

The former stars of Married at first Sight, Granados and Pendergrast were married for less than 1 year, and under the alimony reform bill would not be entitled to alimony.

The pair met on season 4 of the television series, and struggled early on in their relationship. Granados was scared of dogs (he owned one), and felt that he wasn’t physically attracted to her and that he lacked emotion.

The US Magazine article is here.

Alimony Reform & Equal Timesharing . . . Again

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Alimony on Friday, October 9, 2015.

I’m becoming a broken record. Equal timesharing and alimony reform are hot political issues in Florida. . . again. The Senate has proposed a new bill, a lot earlier this year. What’s inside?

I’ve written about the Legislature’s past attempts to reform alimony many times. Senate Bill 250 is the latest attempt to do away with permanent alimony, and create a set of guidelines to automatically calculate the amount of alimony awardable, and the term for how many years alimony would last.

With respect to alimony amounts, the bill establishes alimony guidelines, and presumptive alimony ranges. The presumptive amounts are determined by formulas based on the difference between the parties’ gross incomes and the length of the marriage. The bill also limits the duration of alimony to 25% or 75 % of the length of the marriage.

New Senate bill 250 adds something to timesharing too: equal timesharing for moms and dads:

Approximately equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is presumed to be in the best interest of the child..

While the bill establishes a presumption that approximately equal timesharing with a child by both parents is in the child’s best interest, a court will still be able to order unequal timesharing if unequal timesharing is supported by written findings of fact.

Fifty-fifty timesharing between parents sounds like a great idea, and there are strong arguments for and against a presumption of equal timesharing. Here are some of the argument for and against a presumption in favor of equal timesharing:

Pro

Each year, cases are tied up in court to establish a right to see their children that they would automatically have if they were married.

An equal time presumption promote Florida’s existing policy of frequent contact after divorce.

Equal timesharing puts the burden on the parent opposing equal timesharing, changing the dynamics of custody litigation.

Equal timesharing is consistent with Florida’s existing no-fault concept.

Con

Requiring every family to have equal timesharing is like requiring every family to wear a size 4 shoe. Not every family fits.

The presumption creates a uniform rule where the flexibility of ‘the best interest of the child’ is needed.

Requires courts to focus on QUANTITY of time instead of QUALITY of time.

Requires courts to focus on what’s best for the parents instead of what’s in the child’s best interest.

With the 2016 Legislative set to begin early on January 12, 2016, this Legislative session promises to be an interesting one.

The text of SB 250 is available here.

Alimony Reform . . . In the Big Apple

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Alimony on Monday, July 6, 2015.

Alimony reform is not just a Florida issue, it’s nation-wide. Recently, New York passed sweeping revisions to its alimony laws. Florida’s dueling alimony reform bills died this year. Is New York a sign of what’s to come?

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the New York Senate’s action came five years after the state adopted legislation on alimony that eventually drew criticism from a wide range of bar associations and matrimonial lawyers.

The law introduces a formula to determine temporary alimony that is paid out between the filing of a divorce and its completion. It was intended to protect low-income New Yorkers by providing predictability and consistency in awards.

It worked well for that group, but drew increasing opposition because it applied to people making more than $500,000 a year. Critics said it failed to account for complicated financial situations, and there were extreme cases of spouses being asked to pay more in child support, alimony and other expenses than their monthly incomes.

The new bill preserves the temporary maintenance guidelines and extends them to post-divorce alimony, but now the formula will apply to income up to $175,000, down from $543,000.

It also provides judges with suggested ranges for the length of alimony awards, including proposing 7 to 10 years for marriages lasting 20 years, and changes the formula if child support is involved.

Formerly, money was awarded for a percentage of the lifetime value of a license or professional degree earned during the marriage. The money was awarded regardless of whether the person ended up switching careers or suffered an injury that prevented him or her from working.

I’ve written extensively on Florida’s efforts to adopt new alimony laws. The most recent effort, after a year of wheeling-and-dealing by lawyers, lawmakers and others, died when the Senate refused to take up the House’s version of the bill.

The Wall Street Journal article is here.

Florida Alimony Reform and Equal Timesharing (Custody)

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Alimony on Friday, April 24, 2015.

There are two bills in the Florida House and Senate to drastically change alimony. This week, both the House and Senate bills passed their remaining committees and are ready for floor votes. So why write about custody?

I’ve written about equal timesharing before. The reason for the latest update is that both alimony bills have strong language about how judges must award custody rights to parents. But each is slightly different fro each other.

The bills have different language, but both will dramatically change the laws of custody in Florida if passed and signed by the governor.

Senate Bill 1248

Approximately equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is presumed to be in the best interest of the child.”

Senate bill 1248 creates a presumption that approximately equal timesharing with a child by both parents is in the child’s best interest. However, a court can establish an unequal timesharing arrangement if it wants.

The judge would have to show an unequal timesharing arrangement is best, and make written findings as to why. The Senate bill has an October 1, 2015 effective date.

House Bill 943

It is further the public policy of this state that a child’s interests are ordinarily best served by the equal and active involvement of both parents in the child’s life. Absent good cause, it is in the minor child’s best interests to have substantial time sharing with both parents.

The House bill started as strictly an alimony bill. However, this week Rep. Burton added the amendment quoted above, and the timesharing provision is different from the Senate version.

First, the bill specifically sets forth a new public policy. It is not common for Florida public policy to be specifically expressed in the statute. What is rarer is that this adds to a previous public policy statement about timesharing already in the statute:

It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing

Second, and unlike the Senate version, the bill does not require “equal timesharing” at all. What it does is codify what I think many judges presume: it allows willing parents to spend a substantial amount of time with their children after divorce and separation.

There is only a few more days left in the regular session of the Legislature this year. Anyone involved in a pending action, seeking to establish a new alimony or parenting plan case, or modify an existing one, should keep their eyes on Tallahassee.

The House Bill can be found here.

Alimony Reform & A Presumption of Equal Timesharing

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Timesharing/Visitation on Thursday, April 16, 2015.

Equal timesharing and alimony reform are back again, as the Florida Legislature is in session. Competing House and Senate bills are being circulated which dramatically change alimony and may create a presumption of equal timesharing (custody).

I’ve written about the Legislature’s past attempts to reform alimony before. Senate Bill 1248 is the latest attempt to do away with permanent alimony, and create a set of guideline to automatically calculate the amount of alimony awardable, and the term for how many years alimony would last.

Both bills reform alimony. With respect to alimony amounts, the bill establishes presumptive alimony ranges. The presumptive amounts are determined by formulas based on the difference between the parties’ gross incomes and the length of the marriage. The bill also limits the duration of alimony to 25% or 75 % of the length of the marriage.

However, unlike the House bill discussed in earlier posts, the Senate bill adds something different: equal timesharing for moms and dads:

“Approximately equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is presumed to be in the best interest of the child.”

The bill establishes a presumption that approximately equal timesharing with a child by both parents is in the child’s best interest. However, a court can order unequal timesharing if unequal timesharing is supported by written findings of fact.

Fifty-fifty timesharing between parents sounds like a great idea, and there are strong arguments for and against a presumption of equal timesharing. Here are some of the argument for and against a presumption in favor of equal timesharing:

Pro

Each year, cases are tied up in court to establish a right to see their children that they would automatically have if they were married.

An equal time presumption promote Florida’s existing policy of frequent contact after divorce.

Equal timesharing puts the burden on the parent opposing equal timesharing, changing the dynamics of custody litigation.

Equal timesharing is consistent with Florida’s existing no-fault concept.

Con

Requiring every family to have equal timesharing is like requiring every family to wear a size 4 shoe. Not every family fits.

The presumption creates a uniform rule where the flexibility of ‘the best interest of the child’ is needed.

Requires courts to focus on QUANTITY of time instead of QUALITY of time.

Requires courts to focus on what’s best for the parents instead of what’s in the child’s best interest.

With the 2015 Legislative session roaring up north, and competing bills in the House and Senate, this is a very interesting issue to keep your eye on.

Florida Alimony Reform Update

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Alimony on Wednesday, March 11, 2015.

With the Legislature in session, alimony reform in Florida is on the top of everyone’s minds. Last week I pointed out the heart of the new statute, alimony guidelines. But there are some other new updates in the bill.

fla-leg-thumb-350x233-49322

Income and Potential Income

Under the current statute, income is not well defined. Under the proposed law, there will be an extensive list of what income is for alimony.

There is also a new item: “potential income”. Potential income is income which could be earned using your best efforts. In other words, if you were employed before, potential income is the income you could earn by working at a locally available, full-time job commensurate with your education, training, and experience. If you have investments, it would be the reasonably expected return from your investments.

Underemployed

Are you underemployed? Under the new statute, “underemployed” means you are not working full-time in a position which is appropriate, based upon your educational training and experience, and available near your residence.

Standard of Living

Standard of living was historically a major factor in awarding alimony. But under the proposed statute, the standard of living for two households will be presumed to be lower than a single-married household, and that judges must consider that fact.

Absolute Maximum Alimony Payment

The bill would limit the total alimony and child support payment by prohibiting the amount from exceeding more than 55% of the payor’s net income. Under the current statute there is no alimony maximum.

New Spouses

I’ve written extensively about the impact of a new spouse on discovery. Can you subpoena a new husband’s tax returns or take his deposition?

The financial information of a new spouse is inadmissible, and may not be considered as a part of any modification action, unless a party is claiming that his or her income has decreased since the marriage.

Even then, the financial information of the new spouse is discoverable and admissible only to the extent necessary to establish whether the party claiming that his or her income has decreased is diverting income or assets to the subsequent spouse that might otherwise be available for the payment of alimony.

Prevailing Party Attorneys’ Fees

The new bill requires the side that unnecessarily promotes or defends against an alimony modification to pay fees to the other side. This is popularly known as a “prevailing party” attorneys’ fee provision.

Besides the guidelines, which totally change the way alimony is decided in Florida, the new alimony reform bill contains a lot of new ideas and ways of deciding on the amount and term of alimony. The bill is something to follow.

House bill 943 can be read here.