The third time is not a charm for Florida Alimony Reform 2022. Declaring the bill unconstitutional, Governor, Ron DeSantis vetoed SB 1796. This is the third time a Republican governor has vetoed an alimony bill, and comes a few hours after another important decision is made.
No Lucky Charms for Alimony Reform
If politics makes strange bedfellows, what is behind governor DeSantis’s veto? Interestingly, the alimony reform bill was sponsored by the state chairman of his own Republican party, and opposed by the National Organization for Women and the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar.
Even more interesting, the veto was signed mere hours after the U.S. Supreme Court released its long-awaited opinion which overturned Roe v. Wade.
Florida’s own abortion ban, HB 5, is currently before the Florida Supreme Court. But on Friday afternoon, many wonder how the Republican controlled legislature and Gov. DeSantis will react in the era of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The alimony reform bill this year, in part, would have done away with permanent alimony and set up maximum payments based on the duration of marriage. The bill also required a court to prioritize bridge-the-gap alimony first, followed by rehabilitative and durational alimony.
The bill also addressed equal timesharing:
Unless otherwise provided in this section or agreed to by the parties, there is a presumption that equal time-sharing of a minor child is in the best interests of the minor child who is common to the parties.
Finally, the bill provided for bifurcation of a divorce proceeding after 365 days has elapsed since the petition was filed, and authorizes the court to enter temporary orders on substantial issues until such issues can be ultimately decided.
I’ve written about alimony reform in Florida. In every Florida divorce case, the court can grant alimony to either party. Not many people realize there are several types of alimony in Florida: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or for the moment, permanent alimony.
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.
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 things like: 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, including the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.
One of the most-controversial parts of SB 1796 was how it changed the process for modifying alimony when people retire. The bill threatened to impoverish older ex-spouses who have been homemakers and depend on the payments.
Commentators remarked that the portions of the bill allowing for modification of alimony based on retirement of the payor were retroactive, and that retroactivity made the bill unconstitutional. In fact, governor DeSantis pointed this out in his letter:
“If CS/CS/SB 1796 were to become law and be given retroactive effect as the Legislature intends, it would unconstitutionally impair vested rights under certain preexisting marital settlement agreements,” the governor wrote.
Many ex-spouses who appeared before legislative committees to speak against the bill said they agreed to give up assets at the time of their divorces in exchange for permanent alimony awards.
The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, which lobbied against the bill, thanked the governor for understanding the bad precedent the retroactivity of the measure would have established.
A statement attributed to Family Law Section Chair, Philip Wartenberg and immediate past chair, Heather Apicella, stated:
“If signed into law, this legislation would have upended thousands upon thousands of settlements, backlogging the courts and throwing many Floridians’ lives into turmoil”
People and organizations on both sides of the issue heavily lobbied DeSantis’ office. As of last Friday, the governor had received 5,939 emails in support of the bill and 1,250 in opposition, along with 349 phone calls in favor and 289 against the measure.
When asked for a tally of phone calls and emails about the bill, DeSantis’ office also provided excerpts from messages pleading with the governor for a veto.
The WFSU article is here.