Alimony in Florida 2015

Alimony in Florida: Changes May be Coming

Per the Florida House Government Bills website:

CS/CS/HB 943 – Family Law
General Bill by Judiciary Committee and Civil Justice Subcommittee and Burton and Workman (CO-SPONSORS) Costello; Eisnaugle; Gaetz

Family Law: Provides requirements for calculation of alimony pendente lite; provides for determination of presumptive alimony range & duration range; provides presumptions concerning alimony awards depending on duration of marriages; provides for imputation of income in certain circumstances; specifies that combined award of alimony & child support may not constitute more than specified percentage of payor’s net income; prohibits court from changing duration of alimony award; provides that party may pursue immediate modification of alimony in certain circumstances; revises factors to be considered in determining whether existing alimony award should be reduced or terminated because of alleged supportive relationship; specifies factors to be considered in determining whether to modify or terminate award based on substantial change in circumstance; provides for motions to advance trial of certain actions if specified period has passed since initial service on respondent. 

Effective Date: October 1, 2015
Last Event: Amendment 984545 filed on Tuesday, April 07, 2015 10:24 AM

Florida lawmakers are considering an alimony reform bill that’s proved quite controversial. The proposed measure would eliminate lifelong alimony payments and use a formula based on the length of the marriage.  It would use a spousal income differential formula to set the alimony amount and duration.

Introduced by state Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Polk), Florida House Bill 943, is stirring emotional arguments for and against reform.  Alimony reform proponents have sought change in the alimony statute for years, arguing that recipients use permanent alimony to avoid working even when they could work. Opponents of reform say that the proposed changes would make it impossible for mothers to leave careers to stay home with their children because of the loss of earning potential and the possibility of no means of support after a marital breakup.

Under Florida’s current alimony statute FL Statute 61.08, the court looks at need and the ability to pay alimony.  The court then looks at several statutory factors to determine the amount of alimony to award.  Therein lies the heart of the issue.  There are no guidelines for judges, lawyers or their clients as to the exact amount of alimony that will be awarded.  There is plenty of case law but there is no certainty as to what amount will be awarded.  Lawyers cannot tell their clients the exact amount of alimony to expect to receive or to pay. There is a lot of judicial discretion and thus alimony awards vary by areas of the State and county to county.

Under the proposed bill, income and the term “underemployment may be defined.  The term “underemployment” is highly litigated.  The bill also looks to address the potential income of the recipient.  The proposed alimony guidelines may also have an upper and lower amount of alimony.  The current statute has no guidelines as to amount to be awarded.

The proposed bill also recognizes that two households will have a lower standard of living than a single married household and directs the courts consider this rather than trying to maintain the standard of living of the marriage.  The proposed statute also sets a maximum of 55 percent for the payor, meaning that the total award of child support and alimony cannot exceed 55 percent of the the payor’s net income.

The proposed bill would also let people lower or end payments upon retirement, create a rebuttable presumption that no alimony be awarded for marriages of two years or less, and establish that an increase in the payer’s income “does not constitute a basis for a modification to increase alimony unless at the time the alimony award was established it was determined that the obligor was underemployed or unemployed.”  The bill also changes terms like “husband” and “wife” to the gender-neutral “spouse,” presumably to recognize Florida’s now-legal same-sex marriages.

NOTE: The exact text of the bill can change between now and a possible signature into law.  Unlike in 2013, when there was strong opposition to alimony reform, this bill appears to have the backing of several influential factions in Florida, including the Florida Bar Family Law Section.  That will increase the likelihood of some version of the proposed bill becoming the law of Florida.

If the proposed bill is passed and signed by the governor it will be effective October 1, 2015.

If you want to discuss how the new alimony law may affect you call us today.