February 14, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
It’s that time of year again in Florida. Early Spring? No, it’s the time when the legislature is in session, there are two bills that would reform alimony and parenting time law and, of course opposition to both from family lawyers. Here’s one example from Amy Hamlin who’s president of the Family Law Section of the Florida State Bar (Florida Politics, 2/10/20). We’ve been down this road in Florida many times before and, predictably, the family lawyers there have no new arguments to make in their desperation to head-off sensible reform.
Well, to be entirely accurate, Hamlin does have one new argument that comes in the subtitle to her piece.
Hasty changes to alimony reform won’t yield better results for Florida families.
“Hasty?” Er, not exactly. In fact, alimony reform and shared parenting are possibly the best-known, best-understood and most extensively vetted of any issue before the legislature. That’s because they’ve been introduced as bills, heard by committees, argued to the full House and Senate and voted on for at least four years now. That’s not what I call “hasty.”
Weirdly, Hamlin admits as much.
For the last several Legislative Sessions, there has a push for sweeping changes to Florida’s alimony statute…
So, according to the article, the effort is hasty and at the same time it’s been around for several years. Make sense? As it turns out, it makes about as much sense as the rest of Hamlin’s piece.
Predictably, Hamlin imagines a legal world few Floridians who’ve passed through it would recognize. Indeed, if the comments to her piece are any indication, she’s entirely off-base. For example, Hamlin wants to continue the system under which alimony payors can literally be paying on their deathbed. Hamlin tells them not to worry because they can always pay a lawyer vast sums of money, go to court and pray that a judge who has almost complete discretion in the matter will give them a break. Most people of course can’t afford to even try, meaning that their obligation to an ex-spouse, who can’t be bothered to give them the time of day, ends only with death.
And those who can afford the legal bills often find that minor inconveniences like a serious illness or the desire to finally retire aren’t considered “changed circumstances” by His/Her Honor. So the obligation to pay alimony not only can be permanent, it can deny the payor any semblance of a normal late life.
Perhaps most laughable is Hamlin’s plaint that the proposed reforms might not result in fair outcomes. Nowhere does she mention the fact that the current system, about which she’s so enthusiastic, unquestionably does exactly that.
Nor does Hamlin ever get around to saying what the bills would actually do. Their whole point is to provide some sort of predictability to outcomes in alimony cases. That is, if the bills become law, every divorcing person would know within reason what they would pay/receive and for how long. They can then make sensible plans based on reasonable certainties. As things stand now, it’s anyone’s guess. No two judges are alike and all have extremely wide latitude about how they can rule. It’s a crap shoot.
Amazing too is the fact that Hamlin betrays not the slightest awareness that we live in a time when men and women both do paid work and can support themselves. Nowhere does she admit that the very concept of alimony is an artifact of days long gone by or that the spirit of independence and self-reliance demands that non-disabled adults should be required to fend for themselves. Hamlin’s arguing for a system of law that assumed women to be helpless creatures incapable of seeing to their own needs. That loony infantilization of women is not only factually false, but denigrating to the distaff half of society.
But alimony reform isn’t the only improvement to Florida law Hamlin opposes. As a family attorney, she of course opposes equal parenting too. And, as with alimony, she has nothing new to add to the threadbare arguments trotted out regularly by family lawyers everywhere.
Another troubling part of this proposed legislation is the presumption of equal timesharing, as a presumption of 50/50 timesharing wrongly assumes that all families are the same and should be treated the same.
No, actually it doesn’t. Plus, as a lawyer, Hamlin surely knows it doesn’t. What the bills would do is establish a presumption of equal parenting time. But, as every lawyer knows, presumptions can be rebutted. That gives judges the ability to order different parenting plans for different parents as the need arises. Again, Hamlin knows this. The fact that she pretends otherwise means but one thing – she has no real arguments to make against bills she doesn’t like.
Of course she doesn’t like them because they’d cut into her revenue stream if they become law. Needless to say, when it comes to lawyers’ take on shared parenting, the bottom line is always the bottom line. It’s long past time the Florida Legislature stopped allowing this tiny special interest group to dictate so much about children’s welfare and other people’s money.