Florida House subcommittee approves alimony reform bill

Legislation would abolish permanent alimony, set up formula based on length of marriage

Efforts to reform Florida’s alimony laws are moving quickly in the state Capitol.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Efforts to reform Florida’s alimony laws are moving quickly in the state Capitol.

But the legislation contains a clause that has sunk reform efforts in the past.

Permanent alimony would end under the legislation. It would be replaced with a formula based on the length of a marriage.

For the first time, the proposed change is being supported by the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar.

“This is something the section has historically opposed, but we believe the time has come to move away from this concept of permanent alimony,” said Philip Wartenberg, Family Law Section chair-elect.

The most controversial provision says child custody issues begin with a presumption that parents will share time equally.

“What would happen is you will have a huge hurdle, this presumption, before you even get to the 20 factors,” Wartenberg said.

Before the bill was approved Thursday by the Florida House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee, the sponsor said there was one goal.

“To ensure that this leads to a better system that provides predictability, that provides certainty and fairness,” state Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, voted no.

“When you have a 50-50 assumption, it can tie a judge’s hands,” Eskamani said.

The sponsor twice refused to talk with us about the legislation. What we would have asked is why the sponsor included the presumption that parents would share children equally. The presumption has killed the bill in the past.

And Barbara Devane, of Florida NOW, told us the threat of child sharing is often used as leverage.

“To get them to agree to something that is not in their financial economic interests or the child’s,” saod Devane.

The legislation would also create an avenue for the payor of alimony to seek to lower the amount or end it altogether when someone reaches retirement age.

Under current Florida law, a judge evaluates 17 to 20 factors to decide child custody. It would remain, but the fear is it would take a back seat to the 50-50 sharing provision.

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