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April 10, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

As of yesterday, those in favor of SB 668 have called and emailed Governor Rick Scott’s office a whopping 8,700 + times. Those opposed have done so less than a third as often – fewer than 2,500 times according to this article (Palm Beach Post, 4/9/16). The governor has until April 19th to either sign or veto the bill. If he does neither, it becomes law on April 20th. The word on the street is that Scott seldom simply lets a bill become law without his signature. So far, no one seems to have a read on his inclination regarding SB 668, but the Chairman of the House Rules Committee thinks he can convince Scott to sign it.

“I’ve talked to him, and he has some questions, mostly about the custody section of the bill,” said House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, who helped craft the bill. “But I hope to speak to him one more time. If it’s a ‘maybe’ now, I think I can get him to ‘yes.’”

Meanwhile, as expected, opponents still haven’t come up with real arguments against the bill.

But Pamela Goodman of Palm Beach Gardens, president of the Florida League of Women Voters, is among those seeking a Scott veto. She said the league found lawmakers failed to rely on adequate research in promoting the overhaul of alimony and child custody laws.

“There’s really no economic data to support the reforms in this bill,” Goodman said. “And it’s going to have a huge impact on women and children in this state.”

And what are the “economic data” supporting the status quo? Goodman didn’t offer any, probably because there are none. What the bill is based on are the concepts of fairness and individual responsibility. It beggars belief that organizations that pretend to represent women would go to bat for existing laws that (a) assume women to be incompetent to care for themselves and (b) encourage them not to.

Will SB 668 have a “huge impact on women and children in this state?” Presumably Goodman’s actually read the bill. If so, she knows it’s not retroactive, so existing orders for alimony won’t be affected one whit. As to future divorces, all adults will now understand that they won’t be able to live their lives off the earnings of another just because the two were married for some period of time. That should encourage both to see to their own economic welfare in case they split up. How is that a bad thing?

In the process, SB 668 would encourage fathers and mothers alike to model the type of behavior we all hope they would. That means fathers will take more of a role in childcare and mothers will do more to support their families financially. Their children living with that behavior will follow suit when they grow up. The result will be women who are more autonomous and men who are better caregivers to children. Most importantly, children won’t lose one parent following divorce.

So whatever impact on women and children SB 668 has will be beneficial to all concerned.

Plus, it’ll encourage spouses not to divorce. As things stand now, states all but beg women to divorce their husbands via often hefty financial incentives like alimony and child support. At the same time, many men are coming to look at marriage as a bad bargain. Somehow doing the lion’s share of the paid work only to see half or more of their assets taken from them along with their children fails to entice. Add in still more money taken out of their pockets in alimony and child support and it’s easy to see how men would opt out. Unsurprisingly, the marriage rate in the United States has been declining fairly sharply for many years. It’s simply perverse for states to encourage the destruction of an institution as valuable to popular peace and well-being as marriage. SB 668 constitutes several steps in the right direction.

Of course the National Organization for Women opposes anything that threatens to reduce the transfer of assets from men to women.

“This punishes the spouse who makes the sacrifice of staying home with their family,” said Terry Sanders, president of Florida NOW. “And these are mostly women.”

The answer to that is to confine alimony orders to those who did so. Would that suit Sanders? I doubt it, for the good and sufficient reason that neither NOW nor any other group opposing SB 668 proposed such a bill or such an amendment to this one. After all, it would be easy enough to limit alimony orders to spouses who took significant time off – say three years or more - to care for their children.

But neither NOW nor any other organization proposed such a bill. They didn’t because they know full well that doing so would cut the number of alimony orders far more than SB 668 does. The simple truth is that their argument about childcare is mostly a red herring. NOW and others of their ilk like the status quo because it maximizes the flow of cash from men to women. Under existing law, whoever is the lesser-earning spouse receives alimony. SB 668 tightens up the criteria a bit and brings consistency and predictability to the process.

As usual, opponents of reasonable reform complain about whatever the reform is, but offer nothing of their own.

To its credit, the linked-to article points out that the most serious opponents of reform are family lawyers.

But some of the most aggressive lobbying against the measure is coming from a former supporter of the alimony changes – the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar.

The section turned on the bill when the Senate pushed for the addition of the new legal standard that directs judges to decide child custody based on the premise that youngsters should spend roughly equal amounts of time with each parent following a divorce.

Lawyers for the section have hired lobbyists close to Scott’s office, including the governor’s own former legislative affairs director, Jon Costello, to advocate for a veto.

To my mind, the more the opposition to SB 668 is identified as wealthy family lawyers and their still wealthier lobbyists, the better. The spectacle of a popular bill being opposed by elite lawyers in $1,000 suits can’t be a bad thing for proponents of the bill.

Of course the article’s author, John Kennedy, seems to be unaware of the trove of documents obtained from the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar that I’ve written about and that have been made available to various interested journalists. Those demonstrate beyond doubt that the FLS was fully informed about all alimony and parenting time reform bills from early in the legislative session. The idea that, in some way, an organization with two (now six) highly paid lobbyists managed to be unaware of the provisions of a bill that was before two committees and passed both houses of the legislature is simply absurd. The FLS had more-than-weekly meetings at which the progress of alimony and parenting time was discussed. That the organization now pretends to have been taken off guard is pathetic, to say nothing of untrue.

And, speaking of untrue, Senator Tom Lee, an avid supporter of SB 668, didn’t mince words for Kennedy.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who pushed for including the custody provision in the legislation, over initial resistance from Workman in the House, said he is tired of what he sees as fearmongering by those seeking a Scott veto.

“I do quarrel with the false statements being made about this legislation,” Lee said. “It’s brought out the worst in some of these special interest groups wanting to kill this bill.”

“Fearmongering” and “false statements.” That’s about the size of it. When you don’t have an argument on the merits to make, that’s what you’re left with. And that’s what the likes of NOW and the FLS have with which to oppose a bill that would make the divorce system better for kids, fairer for parents and tend to calm the waters of social upheaval.

But of course, as always, those opposed never mention children. For the umpteenth time, we have an article about shared parenting in which opponents have not one word to say about kids or their welfare. That alone damns their efforts.

If the email and phone traffic into Governor Scott’s office is any indication, the people of Florida are sick of the lies and sick of special interests who only want what’s best for themselves.

Will Scott listen?

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National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#sharedparenting, #alimony, #NOW, #GovernorRickScott, #SB688

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