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May 29, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

It’s always good to see the right message delivered in the news media and such was the case here (Central Florida Post, 5/8/17). Deborah Leff-Kelapire is writing about alimony reform in Florida and she hits all the right buttons. I’ve inveighed against our alimony laws before and particularly Florida’s. My take on alimony is that it’s outdated and unnecessary except in rare cases. Plus, it’s bad public policy since it discourages marriage, discourages remarriage and encourages divorce.

Leff-Kelapire takes aim at all those issues and more.

Alimony laws in Florida are antiquated and must be reformed. Florida is an outlier state because alimony can be permanent and is punitive. Permanent alimony may have been appropriate in a different era when the alimony laws were established, but certainly not in the 21st century where the economic reality is such that most women work outside the home.

Women have equal opportunities to men in terms of education and job opportunities, so much so that females paying alimony to former spouses are on the rise.

So why not simply expect adults to support themselves? Why should a marriage that ended many years ago be a continuing meal ticket for one former spouse and an enormous financial drain on the other?

Everyone has the right to retire and everyone should be expected to be self-sufficient. A divorce should not financially destroy an alimony payer or give an alimony recipient early retirement void of financial responsibility.

Well, everyone should have the right to retire, but in Florida as elsewhere, many people can’t do so because their obligation to an ex-spouse is never-ending. Again, except in rare cases of serious disability including advanced age, every adult should be expected to support him/herself. There is no rational argument to be made for one person’s being required to support another person simply because the two were once married. Marriage may once have been a lifelong commitment, but not now. If one spouse wants to end it, she can, but she shouldn’t be able to end the obligations part of marriage while retaining the privileges part. (I use the feminine pronoun because 70% of divorce actions are filed by women and 97% of alimony recipients are women.)

As long as alimony is paid, a divorce is never final. Alimony should be paid for a reasonable period of time, but certainly not until death. The goal of alimony should change from supporting a dependent lifestyle to creating self-sufficiency. A formula-based alimony would enable both parties to be on equal financial footing for period of time while allowing the alimony recipient time and resources to re-establish their profession or train for a new career in order to achieve self-sufficiency.

Exactly. If one spouse has set aside a career to care for children and her skills and experience in her field have suffered as a result, I think she should be able to receive a sum sufficient to support basic needs for a few (usually about three) years in order for her to re-establish herself in the workforce. Beyond that, the obligation should stop and the two finally go their separate ways.

Meanwhile, Florida alimony statutes are lightyears away from the ideal.

While the person married 16 years or less is expected to be self-sufficient after the durational alimony is over, the person married 17 years or more does not have any expectation of self-sufficiency. There is no provision in the law for imputed income or expectation that the recipient will ever take care of themselves.

As the law currently stands, the payer must initiate costly modification procedures when they want to retire, transition to a less stressful career if they are having health issues, cannot maintain their earnings as they age, or if they are laid off. There is no guarantee that a modification will result in lower payments. Even in cases of involuntary retirement, the payer may still be obligated to pay alimony until death (Wiedman v. Wiedman FL 5th DCA 1992).

It’s not uncommon to hear about the 60-year-old employee who is released so the company can replace them with a younger person at a lower salary. Unfortunately, it is at these times where judges sometimes look at the payer’s second spouse’s income and assets, a party that had nothing to do with the original divorce.

That is all disgraceful, particularly the last. How on earth the income and assets of a second wife can be considered fair game to help pay a first wife who chooses not to work for a living is utterly beyond reason. The second wife made no promises to the first, received no services from the first, her children weren’t cared for by the first. So why is she made to (effectively) pay alimony to the first?

Finally, Florida law is not only unjust, it’s hypocritical as well.

The state expects that an 18-year-old high school graduate become self-sufficient immediately upon graduation. If a parent chooses not to help the child beyond 18, that person is on their own. Conversely, the law as it currently stands, considers a 40-year-old person in need of lifetime support if they were a lower earner in a 17 year marriage.

Make sense? Nope. Leff-Kelapire is spot on from start to finish.

I notice that she’s started a PAC to promote alimony reform in Florida called the Florida Family Law Reform PAC. That can only mean that she’s taking the route of political activism, presumably in favor of lawmakers who vote the right way on family court reform and against those who don’t. Good for her. I’ve long argued that moral suasion isn’t enough to bring about meaningful reform. Office-holders and office-seekers need to be made aware that their votes will be noticed and action taken at the ballot box.

I’ll be interested to see what political action her PAC takes and the results.

 

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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.

#alimony, #alimonyreform, #Florida

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