Florida Alimony Reform 2021 is back in the news as the Legislature once again takes up how alimony and child sharing are handled in family law courtrooms. This year’s bills in the House and Senate have many changes, including the elimination of permanent alimony and an equal timesharing presumption.
The Sausage Factory
As WLRN reports:
“I was married for 17 years to a man who quit working the minute we were married. I supported about seven different businesses that he ran into the ground. He abused drugs and alcohol. And he was abusive to me and our two children.”
Shultz says she was ordered by the court to pay her ex-husband $5,250 per month for the rest of her life. I cannot retire because I have alimony payments to pay every 30 days,” Shultz says. House Bill 1559 would also allow payments to end when the person providing the alimony reaches full retirement age as determined by the U.S. Social Security Administration—with exceptions.
Under existing case law, someone paying alimony can apply to have their alimony adjusted or terminated upon reaching the normal retirement age for their job or profession.
I’ve written about subject of alimony in Florida before. In every Florida dissolution of marriage case, the court can grant alimony to either party – husband or wife.
Not many people realize there are several types of alimony in Florida: temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, and permanent. In determining the type, amount, duration, and later modification or termination of an alimony award, the court has broad discretion but may only award alimony after initially determining that one spouse needs alimony and the other spouse is able to pay alimony.
If a court awards or denies an alimony request, it must consider enumerated factors and may consider the adultery of either spouse or any other factor it finds necessary to achieve equity and justice between the parties. An alimony award may be modified or terminated when the circumstances or financial ability of either party changes, including changes due to a receiving spouse’s supportive relationship or a paying spouse’s retirement.
Florida courts can also award a combination of alimony types in a divorce. Alimony awards are normally paid in periodic payments, but sometimes the payments can be in a lump sum or both lump sum and periodic payments.
In determining whether to award alimony or not, the court has to first make a determination as to whether a wife or a husband, has an actual need for alimony, and whether the other party has the ability to pay alimony.
Typically, courts consider any type of earned income or compensation — that is, income resulting from employment or other efforts — along with recurring passive income, such as dividends on your investments, in establishing the amount of support you will be responsible to pay.
In Florida, once a court determines there is a need and the income available to pay alimony – sometimes referred to as the ability to pay alimony – it has to decide the proper type and amount of alimony. In doing so, the court considers several factors, some of which can include:
- The standard of living established during the marriage.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party.
- The financial resources of each party, including the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.
Other factors, such as the earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties and, when applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable such party to find appropriate are also considered.
No Time Like Equal Time?
A very strange component of the Florida alimony bills is that the bills deal with parenting time with children. The proposed bills would create a presumption that 50/50 time-sharing of children would be in the child’s best interest — meaning both parents would have equal time with their child.
Right now, timesharing is analyzed in detail. The existing law requires judges to evaluate several different factors in determining an appropriate parenting plan for a child. Rep. Emily Slosberg (D-Delray Beach) questioned the change during a meeting on the bill:
“So, under your bill, if there is hypothetically one parent who is drug-addicted and another parent who has really been caring for the child—under your bill, this would create a presumption that 50/50 is in the best interest in the child.”
“Absolutely not,” bill sponsor Miami Republican Rep. Anthony Rodriguez (R-Miami) said in response. “I mean, you walk into the courtroom, and there is a presumption of 50/50 time-sharing, but, in that scenario, specifically in the scenario representative, it is obvious that the judge would not grant 50/50 time-sharing to a drug-addicted parent.”
“There is a clear nexus between alimony and time-sharing, and we believe that when you walk into the courtroom, the focus of the divorce should be the children. And there should be an equal time-sharing of such, and if for whatever reason that should not be the case, then the judge can decide that,” Rodriguez says. Rodriguez says his bill allows for the presumption of 50/50 time-sharing to be rebutted by a judge.
Obvious? Philip Schipani is a family law attorney who represents clients who have special needs children. He says judges don’t always have a full understanding of a family’s situation. He worries the presumption created under Rodriguez’s bill will put an extra burden on his clients.
“And right now, I have a pending case—a child with special needs—this presumption if they put a 50/50—the father hasn’t seen the child for four years. Not only [does] the child [have] severe special needs, the husband’s a recovering drug addict who hasn’t seen the child in years. So, then you slap this presumption on, and then I have an extra burden to overcome. Not only do I have to explain the child’s condition, explain the drug addiction, I have to overcome this presumption as well,” Schipani says.
The WLRN article is here.