January 27, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The National Parents Organization’s new Florida chapter got the New Year off with a bang. NPO-backed alimony reform legislation was filed in the House of Representatives and will be filed soon in the Senate. House Bill 283 makes sensible and needed changes to existing alimony law in the Sunshine State that currently allows, among other things, alimony obligations to be permanent. There, it’s possible for an alimony payer’s last act on earth to be signing a check to an ex-spouse who, perhaps for decades, couldn’t be bothered to give him the time of day. On a basic human level, that’s an outrage that screams for reform.
I won’t revisit the many reasons why alimony should be done away with altogether in most cases. The chances of that happening in Florida are slim and none. So House Bill 283 makes changes that are needed, reasonable and likely to be enacted into law.
Here are the high points of the bill:
- It requires judges to issue written findings of fact whenever alimony is ordered or modified. That’s necessary for litigants to know what was ordered and why. It’s also necessary should either party want to appeal the order. Appellate courts shouldn’t rule on an appeal while blind to the bases of a trial court’s order.
- The bill requires judges to impute income to both the payer and the payee. Too often, a payee’s income or potential income is ignored when judges issue orders of alimony or spousal support.
- House Bill 283 establishes ranges both for the amount and duration of alimony. The lower range for the amount of alimony is calculated using this formula: 0.015 x years of marriage x difference between the payer’s and payee’s incomes. The upper range is the same except the multiple is 0.020. So, if a couple has been married for 10 years and the payer’s income is $5,000 per month greater than that of the payee, the lower range of alimony would be $750 per month and the upper end would be $1,000.
- The duration of alimony is calculated by using this formula: for the lower end of the range, 0.25 x years of marriage; for the upper end, 0.75 x years of marriage. So, in the above example, alimony would be paid between 2.5 years and 7.5 years.
- Under the bill, alimony is capped at between 20 and 25 years.
- For marriages of less than two years, the bill establishes a presumption that no alimony be paid.
NPO Florida stalwart Alan Frisher said, "The concept of permanent alimony is outdated in today’s society. Alimony recipients must take some responsibility to earn their own living upon divorcing from their spouses. The new proposed law essentially eliminates permanent alimony by allowing the judge to order a term between 25%-75% the length of the marriage."
- House Bill 283 cites the fact that, because the spouses are divorcing and establishing separate households, the standard of living enjoyed during marriage may change following divorce. The concept that, for some reason, courts are to ensure that the standard of living of the payee spouse mustn’t change despite divorce has long seemed one of the great absurdities both of child support law and alimony law. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like too much of a burden for adults to understand that two household cost more to maintain than does one. Plus, most adults can understand that, if she lives with a high-earning spouse, but is not a high earner herself, her standard of living must go down when she divorces. Why courts insist on pretending that the obvious and fair consequences of divorce should in some way be legally repealed is beyond me.
- Under the bill, the total amount of child support and alimony can’t exceed 55% of the payer’s net income. It’s should be entirely unacceptable for alimony and child support be ordered in amounts that maintain the standard of living of the payee and child while driving the payer into poverty. Recall that that’s exactly what happened to a Nebraska father on whom I reported here.
- The bill provides for the reduction or termination of alimony if the payee enters into a supportive relationship with another person. That’s already in the law, but HB 283 adds that the two need not be living together for modification or termination to be ordered. Often, payees avoid termination of alimony by doing everything but live with their new partner. In fact they’re being supported in whole or in part by the new partner, but, simply to keep the alimony flowing, they maintain separate addresses. There’s no reason to allow that sort of double-dipping and the very basis of alimony should prohibit it.
- Finally, the remarriage of the payer may not, under HB 283, constitute a change in circumstances that would warrant an upward modification of alimony, and no evidence thereof is admissible to support a motion to modify. Stated another way, if HB 283 becomes law, new spouses will never again see their incomes taken to support their new partner’s prior spouse. To say the least, the notion that a new spouse should have to do that is an outrage against common sense and justice. But Florida law allows it and naturally discourages remarriage in the process.
Frisher pointed out one of the most important aspects of the bill: "While the formula proposed for alimony can be considered a double-edged sword because it can provide alimony for a marriage term as few as 5 years, it also provides a predictability and consistency in the law to allow the potential for divorcing spouses to settle their financial differences out of court instead of spending countless more dollars on wasteful litigation."
The bill has just been filed and there are months to go in the legislative session. I’ll be providing updates and asking for your support as HB 283 progresses.
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.
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