And ex-spouses deserve clarity about alimony reform


The Florida Legislature passed an impressive overhaul of Florida’s laws on alimony and child custody in the most recent legislative session. But one part of this law is letting some ex-husbands worry about their futures, and they deserve certainty.

Prior to recent reforms, Chief Justices could award one of several forms: “bridging the gap” awards of two years or less duration; “Rehabilitation”, which is temporary support for the ex-spouse to restart or establish their professional life; “Term” for a specified period, primarily after a marriage of short or medium duration (as defined in Florida Alimony Statute, Section 61.08); and “permanent” when one of the parties lacks the “financial ability to meet … the needs and necessities of life”, usually after a long marriage but also in short marriages under exceptional circumstances.

But this basic alimony system was too late to modernize. It was established when wives were largely dependent on their husbands for income across the economic spectrum – many of them were unable to enter into contracts or obtain credit, let alone establish earning capacity. Today’s workplace accommodates full-time jobs for women, and many of them, even those with children, have an earning capacity that exceeds that of even their husbands.

Henny Schumar is an attorney at the law firm of Trip Scott.
Henny Schumar is an attorney at the law firm of Trip Scott.

Reflecting this increased economic independence, some advocates have argued that long-term alimony gives beneficiary spouses a disincentive to take action to support themselves. Moreover, former alimony-paying spouses lamented their inability to retire on their own terms, especially after the Florida Supreme Court established a presumption that 65 is a reasonable retirement age.

Then there’s the ultimate goal for most clients: to bring the arduous divorce process to a fast, fair, and predictable outcome. This goal has been undermined by the wide freedom afforded to judges, which has often led to very different outcomes in similar cases, and the lack of clarity about the reasons for amending decrees. The amendments previously required a “material, material, and unforeseen change of circumstances,” a provision Florida courts have called an “extraordinary burden,” remarriage, or the creation of a largely unspecified “supportive relationship.”

But now, after more than a decade of attempts and three objections to the use of the state’s governor, the Florida legislature, and its governor, Ron DeSantis, has passed. And I signedthe bill addresses the need for modernization and to provide greater certainty and finality to the process and beyond.

The new law’s major step toward modernization was the abolition of permanent maintenance for applications pending or filed on or after July 1. At the same time, the draft law simplifies the determination of alimony through formulas that depend to a large extent on the duration of marriage and which limit judicial discretion in determining the duration of marriage, while not eliminating it entirely. Alimony awards.

The law also removes the burden that a change in circumstances should be “unforeseeable” and more clearly defines a “supportive relationship” as “the provision of financial or economic support equivalent to marriage,” which mandates the modification or termination of alimony or child support. in cases like this. The bill also redefines the retirement age to reflect Social Security Administration standards — as early as 62 — and allows consideration of the customary retirement age in taxpayer occupations, as well as codifying other factors the Supreme Court previously suggested could be considered in determining the law. Potential relief from alimony awards.

This is where the controversy arises. Many ex-husbands, especially older women who may have put their careers on hold to become full-time housewives and depend entirely on payments from their ex-husbands, fear their rewards will be upended and they will be pushed into poverty. Others made concessions as part of the settlements — “earned” rights that DeSantis said could “weaken” the justification for the earlier veto.

Are these decrees already in force, especially the provisions of permanent alimony, retroactively amendable or not? A key factor in determining the final answer: The legislature rejected an amendment that specifically forbids modifications to existing decrees.

All this means that the case will be left to the courts to settle, and vulnerable ex-spouses say they will be thrown into a twilight zone of anxiety and uncertainty, defeating the main purpose of the reforms.

And they have a case – literally – unless the legislature steps forward again in its next session and makes some necessary clarification, either by forbidding retroactive amendments or setting clearer and possibly stricter criteria for rescinding long-term awards.

Bottom line: The big, game-changing divorce reforms have arrived in Florida, and for the most part, they correctly reflect the need for the law to establish certainty and keep pace with changing times. But another adjustment may be required to ensure the security of the ex-spouses.

Henny Schumar, of Hollywood, is an attorney with the law firm Trip Scott, based in Broward.


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