It almost happened in 2013 as proponents of alimony reform in Florida heralded what they believed was the forthcoming passage of new laws eliminating lifetime spousal support and introducing other significant changes in alimony laws. However, women’s groups and divorce attorneys convinced Governor Rick Scott to veto the new law and the hopes of overburdened spouses were dashed.
Fast forward to 2015 where two separate alimony reform bills were introduced to legislators. Florida’s Senate embraced a bill that would end life time spousal support and provide a calculation for the amount and length of support based on the length of the spouses’ marriage and their respective incomes. Not content to focus on alimony reform, it also contained a provision mandating 50/50 shared parenting.
Meanwhile, a similar but separate bill was the subject of debate in Florida’s House where it handily passed.
While the Senate bill raised the heated controversy surrounding equal parenting, the House bill merely added a policy statement that
a child’s interests are usually best served by having both parents involved in his or her life. The bill did not seek to introduce a presumption in favor of either parent for time-sharing, relying as it did on a policy of maximum contact with each parent.
Florida media outlets reported that Senator Tom Lee stood in the way of the Senate’s acceptance of the House bill because of an alleged grudge he held related to his own divorce 15 years earlier, an allegation denied by Senator Lee. Lee was a vocal proponent of 50/50 parenting and would not vote in favour of the House bill’s “watered-down” version.
Nonetheless, the House and Senate’s decision to mix shared parenting with spousal support reform was a significant factor in the demise of alimony reform.
It appears the philosophy of reformers is to try to fix all the perceived ills of family laws in one fell swoop, a strategy that has backfired in other jurisdictions. Pundits say that had the bill dealt strictly with alimony it would likely have passed.
As it is now, lifetime alimony remains and it may be another two years before a further attempt is made. My suggestion? Deal with alimony and get that law passed. Phase 2 can then focus on shared parenting, however, laws that are “extreme”, such as a strict 50/50 formula or retroactivity are less attractive to major interest groups, including family law lawyers and women’s rights groups, who hold significant sway over public opinion.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang