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Florida’s New Alimony Bill (Part I)

A new Florida alimony law recently was passed by Florida’s House of Representatives and Senate, and if signed by Governor Scott, goes into effect on July 1, 2013. An extremely significant provision of the new law is that it also applies retroactively to alimony orders entered before July, 2013 – more about that Part II or III of this post (The act that passed through the legislature also makes a change to the valuation of real estate in particular scenarios in a divorce, and a change to Florida’s time-sharing statute, creating a provision in the statute that equal time-sharing is in the best interests of the child(ren), unless certain conditions are present).

The alimony provisions of the act would change the definition of short-term marriage to less than 11 years; define a mid-term marriage as 11 to less than 20 years; and long-term as 20 years or more. The current ranges are 0 to 7, 7 to 17 and 17 or more (the term of the marriage is important for the forms of alimony available). The act eliminates permanent alimony, and provides that a court may award bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, or durational alimony or a combination of these types of alimony, but shall “prioritize” bridge-the-gap alimony first, and then rehabilitative alimony above any other form of alimony. (A rehabilitation plan is a fairly detailed plan which lays out how the spouse receiving alimony is going to go about increasing their skills or earning capacity). The remaining type of alimony is durational alimony – alimony for a set number of years. You can follow this link for a description of the different types of alimony. The act apparently provides (in new section 61.08(2)(b)) that although a court may combine the different types of alimony, giving priority as listed above, it may order “only a combination of forms of alimony to provide greater economic assistance in order to allow the recipient to achieve rehabilitation.”

So the act discusses prioritizing bridge-the-gap and rehabilitative alimony, and then provides that the court can combines types of alimony and afford greater economic assistance, only to facilitate rehabilitation. One question this raises, is does this mean that durational alimony may only be ordered to help achieve rehabilitation? Currently durational or permanent alimony is ordered to help equalize the standard of living of the parties following the divorce, to help each achieve as close as possible the marital standard of living; is awarded because one spouse does not have the earning capacity of the other; and is not conditioned on the durational alimony helping to lead to “rehabilitation”, i.e. increasing the earning capacity of the lower earning spouse.

That, along with many other provisions in the new act, is definitely a conceptual shift in what alimony means in Florida. If that’s what new section 61.08(2)(b) means (and an additional issue of course is a problem with the act if it’s provisions are unclear), then the new act means that a spouse can get more than bridge-the-gap or alimony according to a rehabilitative alimony plan, only if they’re, at the least, somehow striving or moving towards earning more and becoming more economically self-sufficient – i.e. support yourself. I’m a solo practitioner, and when you have your own business or in other aspects of economic or work life there’s a certain amount of pushing forward you need to do – no complaint because am happy to have my practice and there can be positive stress or pressure that is not necessarily distress, and it’s probably possible to reach a point where even most of that is gone. But is it necessarily fair to expect someone who has been out of the work force for a long time to fully enter into that activity. Proponents on the side of this change in alimony presumably would say sure it is – support yourself or work towards it, why should I support you? But that is a lot easier to say if you’ve been in that mode for a number of years, with opportunities and resources that have built upon each other over time. Also, unless we assume that every person in the United States who is not a young person and is somehow not working at a high or higher paying job is malingering or somehow voluntarily underemployed, then I think we would need to conclude that not every person can somehow implement a plan to make high income or as much money as a high earning spouse. That probably has something to do with structural features of the economy as well – there aren’t enough CEO jobs for everyone to be a CEO. So this provision in the new act, along with others to be addressed in Part II of this post, would put in place it seems a system which allows one spouse to possibly be in a much better financial position than the other spouse following a divorce, versus the current system, which, with a maximum duration based on the length of the marriage, represents a system designed to afford each spouse after the marriage with a roughly similar standard of living, but no greater than the standard of living during the marriage. I’m still looking at the act, and the discussion thus far in this post only addresses the first few provisions of the alimony law, but that seems to be the conceptual framework of the new law.

There are numerous provisions in the act which still give the Judge discretion in making alimony awards (more about that in the next Parts of this post), but the conceptual framework general magistrates, trial judges and appellate courts apply when interpreting the act, if signed, will be important. Or perhaps the Governor would send the act back to the legislature to be cleaned up a bit. Continued in Part II


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