Floridians passionate about alimony bill, which is now in governor's hands


Published: Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 9:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 9:43 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — The fate of Florida’s alimony laws rests with a governor who recently celebrated his 41st anniversary.

Scott hasn’t taken a position on a bill aimed at making major changes in the alimony and related divorce case issues, other than to extol his own successful marriage. But hundreds of Floridians are flooding Scott’s email inbox with passionate pleas to either sign or veto the bill (SB 718).

There are elderly women who say they are worried that they will be thrown into poverty if a new law ends permanent alimony. Some women say their husband’s ex-wives are using existing alimony laws to destroy them financially and emotionally.

Floridians are divided over the notion of a 50-50 child custody provision. Some say it will hurt the children and is only a scheme to lower child support payments. Others say the equal sharing plan is more realistic in these times and gives proper recognition to the roles of fathers.

Scott has until Wednesday to act on the bill.

Asked about the legislation earlier this week, Scott only said it is under review.

“I like being married,” Scott added, noting he and his wife, Ann, recently celebrated their 41st anniversary. “I want to stay married to my wife.”

Floridians, on the other hand, have strong opinions about the bill.

Among those asking Scott to veto the bill is a woman who said her 68-year-old mother called her “in a panic” about the bill, which has a provision that would allow many alimony agreements to be reviewed again.

“My parents agreed to this arrangement in lieu of other assets and potential money,” she wrote. “What will my mother have to retire on? She has counted on this legal and binding arrangement for her to live on and now that she is in her twilight years our wonderful government is going to pull the rug out from under her and leave her destitute.”

A 54-year-old Palm Beach County woman told the governor that she was married for 23 years when her husband left her for another woman. “He completely abandoned me,” she wrote. “If it weren’t for my attorney’s ability to get me alimony, I would probably be living on someone’s sofa and on food stamps. Alimony has allowed me to live a ‘normal’ life after the devastation of my divorce.”

She said she is actively seeking work but has been unable to find a job because of the economy and her age.

A Polk County woman, who is paying permanent alimony to her ex-husband, wants Scott to sign the bill, saying the current system “enslaves” ex-partners.

“I can never move forward with my life,” she wrote. “Unlike child support, which does have an end date, permanent alimony FOREVER attaches you to that person.

“I do understand in some cases alimony is needed for a specific period of time, say for training, but to permanently punish one person for the rest of their life is very unconstitutional.”

“The current law is demeaning to women and second spouses, is outdated for the times we live in today and allows the lawyers to benefit in the long run,” wrote an Englewood woman. “Men are not the only ones paying alimony — there is a large percentage of women paying alimony in Florida too — so this is not anti-woman.”

Any court-ordered alimony payment plan would be subject to review under the bill. Other settlement agreements could also be reviewed, including those for marriages that lasted less than 15 years and where the alimony payment plans exceed the number of years of marriage.

Settlement agreements for marriages over 15 years could also be changed — but the standard to change is much higher, with bill sponsors likening it to voiding a pre-nuptial agreement where issues such as fraud or asset concealment would have to be proved.

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, the House sponsor of the legislation, said theoretically a judge could change alimony payments for a jobless, elderly ex-spouse. But he said no judge “in his right mind” would be likely to do so.

“Unfortunately, there are scare tactics going on,” he said.

However, Maria Gonzalez, a family law attorney from Broward County who is urging Scott to veto the bill, said allowing alimony settlements to be changed is unconstitutional.

“You are violating a party’s private contract rights,” Gonzalez said, explaining that some spouses accept alimony payments in lieu of other assets in the settlements.

Gonzalez also disputed claims that the family law section of the Florida Bar was opposing the bill because the changes in the law could limit litigation and their fees. Gonzalez said the changes in alimony and child custody will generate more legal challenges.

“This bill unfortunately is going to create more litigation,” Gonzalez said. “Attorneys will be in court more and by virtue of that earn more because of this bill.”

Another controversial provision in the bill is the new legal presumption that child custody should be split 50-50 between the ex-husband and wife.

“I feel that it adversely impacts stay-at-home mothers as well as families, like mine, who homeschool,” a woman wrote Scott. “I don’t think this should be a one-size-fits-all mandate. Each family’s circumstances are different and custody should be determined on a case by case basis based on the best interest of the child.”

Gordon Finley, who described himself as a divorced, alimony-paying, retired researcher at Florida International University, said he is urging Scott to approve the bill because “science is on the side” of the 50-50 child custody provision.

He said research shows children in divorced families want “equal shared parenting or something very close to it.” He also said that children who maintain a close relationship with both parents “fare far better on virtually all developmental outcomes as compared to children reared on a two-weekends-a-month visitation schedule for dad.”

An Orlando engineer urged Scott to sign the bill, citing the governor’s lengthy marriage.

“Sir, you are a lucky man, having been married for so long,” he wrote. “Unfortunately many of us do not have that blessing and now are suffering greatly due to antiquated laws. Please sign the alimony reform bill and bring much needed change to thousands of Florida’s families.”

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