Confronted with a highly charged issue that affects families across the state, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have overhauled the state's alimony laws.
In a veto letter, Scott pointed to the possibility that the bill could retroactively affect alimony arrangements.
"The retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results,'' the letter said. "Current Florida law already provides for the adjustment of alimony under the proper circumstances. The law also ensures that spouses who have sacrificed their careers to raise a family do not suffer financial catastrophe upon divorce, and that the lower earning spouse and stay-at-home parent will not be financially punished. Floridians have relied on this system post-divorce and planned their lives accordingly."
The bill (SB 718) would have eliminated the concept of permanent alimony and also carried numerous other potential implications for people whose marriages end in divorce.
Among other things, it would have created new alimony legal standards based on the lengths of marriages. For example, when marriages end in 11 years or less, there would have been what is known as a "rebuttable presumption" against awarding alimony. In contrast, a marriage that ends after 20 years would create a presumption that alimony would be awarded.
During committee meetings, the proposed changes drew often-emotional testimony from people on both sides of the issue. The bill's supporters told of getting saddled with exorbitant alimony payments. Critics, meanwhile, said the changes would particularly hurt women who stayed at home to raise families and then saw their marriages end.
Scott's office released the veto letter to the news media shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday. Earlier, House sponsor Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, sent a message on Twitter that said Scott had decided to veto the measure.
The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, which lobbied against the bill, issued a statement calling Scott's decision "courageous."
"Senate Bill 718 would have left many women with diminished means, depriving them of their vested contractual rights that their ex-spouses agreed to,'' Carin Porras, chairwoman of the Family Law Section, said in the statement. "The legislation would have also discouraged parents from staying at home to raise their children by creating a serious risk that if they stayed home and later got divorced, the chances of receiving support would be very slim."
In the letter, Scott commended Workman and Senate sponsor Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, for their efforts. But he also pointed to the sensitive nature of the issue, saying "numerous Floridians have forcefully expressed their views on the topic."
"Many Florida families have been impacted by the difficulty of marital issues, both concerning children and starting over,'' the letter said. "As a husband, father and grandfather, I understand the vital importance of family. In weighing the issues associated with this bill, however, I have concluded that I cannot support this legislation because it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce."