Bill in Florida Legislature proposes to end permanent alimony

By December 12, 2011

There is a nationwide movement away from the traditional payment of alimony. And “Court battles over alimony are spilling over into the Florida Legislature.” What do you think?
By Donna Gehrke-White
Court battles over alimony are spilling over into the Florida Legislature.
Lawmakers are considerng a bill that would end permanent alimony in the state. It comes just months after a new law took effect limiting permanent alimony largely to breakups of longer marriages.
“Florida’s alimony laws are old fashioned and antiquated,” wrote Hector Torres of Pembroke Pines, in a letter to legislators supporting the proposed law.
Not so fast, says Fort Lauderdale family lawyer Angela Neave: “A woman married for 35 years who stayed home and never had a career does not have a retirement [plan].”
Florida House Bill 549 is part of a nationwide movement away from the traditional payment that typically was given to divorced women in an earlier time, when most wives did not work outside the home. Massachusetts this fall adopted new limits on alimony, and New Jersey lawmakers are considering their own proposed changes.
Today, most divorces in the United States still involve some sort of alimony, but often it’s awarded for a set time to help a spouse retrain for work and become self-supporting, according to those who work in family law practices.
The bill Torres testified in favor of Wednesday in Tallahassee would base the period for alimony on the length of the marriage. Ten years of payments for 10 years of marriage, for example. Any settlement would end when the paying partner retired.
“It would have a fair impact on people like myself who are forced to pay permanent alimony until they die,” said Torres, whose marriage lasted 14 years.
In a letter, he urged lawmakers to allow him and others to go to court to modify their divorce settlements if the law passes.
Torres is part of a grassroots Florida Alimony Reform group that has renewed its efforts since the Massachusetts law passed.
Massachusetts’ new law restricts alimony awards based on the length of the union, while giving judges some flexibility for longer marriages. It ends payments when the paying ex-spouse reaches retirement age or the receiving ex-spouse lives with a romantic partner.
Neave predicted that would be too much for this state’s lawmakers.
“Florida is more conservative,” she said.
Any new law should not hurt homemakers — who are mostly women and raising families rather than working for pay, Neave added.
But she agreed with Torres that the state’s alimony law does need to better reflect the changing times.
“My gut reaction is this is a good start, but it won’t pass as it is because it is too drastic,” said Neave.
Torres said he has taken up the cause because he considers his divorce settlement unfair.
He married at 19 and divorced at 33. The father of three was ordered by a judge a decade ago to pay his then 32-year-old homemaker wife $2,000 a month in alimony until she died or married.
The court, he said, didn’t take into account that his ex-wife could train for work and support herself.