April 2, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This article tells us that Florida Senate Bill 1248 is making its way through the legislature along with its companion bill in the House (Herald Tribune, 3/27/15). It appears it may have enough backing to pass and, since it’s different from a similar bill two years ago, may be signed into law by Governor Rick Scott.
SB 1248 is actually two bills in one. The first part is a radical overhaul of the state’s alimony laws; the second is an equal parenting measure.
The alimony portion is fairly long and would completely change existing law. It’s more involved than I can fully explain here, but I’ll try to hit the high points. Basically, it maintains spouses’ right to alimony post-divorce, but changes how amounts and durations of alimony are calculated. In the process, it rids Floridians of permanent alimony in the future. Existing alimony orders will remain unchanged should SB 1248 become law.
As to alimony amounts, the bill would establish a range. The calculation of the low end of the range would be 0.015 x the years of the marriage x the difference between the monthly gross incomes of the parties. The calculation of the high end would be 0.02 x the number of years of the marriage x the difference in the parties’ incomes.
So if a husband and wife had been married for 12 years and she makes $5,000 per month more than he does, the range she’d have to pay would be from $900 to $1,200 per month.
How long would the ex-wife have to pay the ex-husband in that case? Once again, the bill provides a range. The low end calculation would be 0.25 x the number of years of the marriage and the high end calculation would be 0.75 x the number of years of the marriage.
Using the example above, the duration of alimony would fall somewhere between three and nine years.
If a marriage has lasted less than two years, the bill presumes that no alimony should be awarded, but there are exceptions to that rule. If the marriage has lasted longer than 20 years, the high-end and low-end calculations would be made using 20 years as the marital term.
Those ranges are just guidelines from which orders may deviate, but if a judge does so, he/she would be required to make written findings explaining the reasons for the deviation.
The bill lays out factors judges would be required to consider in deciding the amount and duration of alimony. One of those is the fact that the standard of living of the two divorced spouses will probably be lower than when they were living together. That puts a dent into the notion that one ex-spouse should be required to support the other ex-spouse in the manner to which he/she had become accustomed during the marriage.
Plus, if one ex received a greater share of the marital estate, his/her alimony receipts may be lowered.
Also, the bill would require both parties to use “reasonable diligence” to support themselves and would permit the adjustment of alimony if one or the other failed to do so. It would also require a spouse to upgrade his/her training and employment skills and qualifications where possible. That factor is aimed at recipient ex-spouses in order to “reduce the need for ongoing alimony.” In other words, the bill encourages exes to not sit back and live on their alimony checks.
The “unreasonable depletion or dissipation of marital assets” by one ex will also play a role in determining the amount of alimony and its duration.
Imputation of income would remain part of the law under SB 1248.
Alimony payments would be tax deductible by the payer and income to the payee.
The combination of child support and alimony could not exceed 55% of the net income of the obligor.
In short, as to alimony, SB 1248 is, while far from an ideal bill, not bad. It significantly reduces the amounts and durations of most alimony awards under existing law and it provides a measure of predictability to those awards. It requires recipients to, in most cases, get up and go to work, and not just at any job, but one that’s commensurate with their abilities and training. And of course it does away with permanent alimony for most exes.
Meanwhile, SB 1248 is hard at work on parenting time. It maintains the ‘best interests of the child’ standard, but establishes that,
Approximately equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is presumed to be in the best interest of the child.
The bill then lists the 20 factors in existing law that a judge may consider in overcoming the presumption and adds two more of its own. Those factors are presently used by judges to decide primary custody; under SB 1248, they’d be used to rebut the presumption of equal parenting. So for example, if one parent fails to promote the relationship of the child with the other parent, his/her parenting time may be reduced.
With all those factors, plus a catchall (any other factor that is relevant to a specific parenting plan), my guess is a judge would be free to make just about any order he/she would like. Yes, the bill would establish a legal presumption, but it would also fling the door open wide for judges to simply continue doing what they’re doing now – awarding custody to Mom and relegating Dad to the sidelines.
I suppose we’ll have to see how it works out if the bill becomes law, but from here the chances that it would greatly change parenting time for fathers look remote.
Meanwhile, the usual suspects – family lawyers and feminist groups - seem to mostly agree with the alimony portion of the bill but aren’t enthusiastic about the parenting time part.
As a result, some key opponents of the 2013 bill, like the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, are largely in support of Stargel’s latest effort.
Elisha Roy, representing the Bar’s family law section, told the senators that the lawyers’ group “supports most of the bill,” saying they believed the alimony formula — which factors in the income of the two spouses and the length of the marriage — would bring consistency to the divorce settlements.
Roy said one of her chief concerns remains the “hard presumption” that child-sharing should be equally divided between the spouses, although the bill does allow judges to deviate based on a number of factors. Roy said she was hopeful a compromise could be found.
But some women’s groups still have issues with the legislation.
Barbara DeVane, a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, which opposed the bill two years ago, said she was still concerned about the impact on older women who had not worked outside of their homes and had their long-term marriages ended.
“With this bill, I’m always very concerned about the older women,” DeVane said.
We’ll see what happens.
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