A 77-year-old woman from South Florida recently felt anxious. She has been married for more than 30 years, and she was divorced in 2006, and she has been collecting alimony since then. It’s not enough to live on – just over $1,000 a month. But she has it, and she needs it.
“It was called permanent alimony,” she said. “It would be gone if I remarried, but I never remarried. Why would I want to remarry? I’m old!”
Now she worries that a new state law will deprive her of the monthly payment she has relied on for 17 years.
The law, which took effect on July 1, restricts the ability of women (and sometimes men) to collect alimony for the rest of their lives for marriages that ended after July 1. Whereas in the past payment agreements were the result of difficult negotiations between and with the rigor of lawyers, the new law places well-defined limits on how long a person can expect to pay or receive alimony payments after a marriage deteriorates.
Lawyers say they are inundated with questions from ex-wives and ex-husbands who worry (or hope) that the new law will affect the agreements they have reached. The answer, the lawyers said, is – probably not.
For short-term marriages, those that last less than a decade, alimony payments cannot last more than half of the marriage. For example, those who have been married for a decade can expect their payments to expire after five years.
A “moderate” marriage that lasts up to 20 years can expect maintenance to last 60% of the life of the marriage.
For long-term marriages such as senior marriages in South Florida, maintenance can last up to 75% of the duration of the marriage.
So even if the new law is applied retroactively, it won’t affect a 77-year-old until 2029.
But it does not apply retroactively, according to divorce lawyers who spoke to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Ex-husbands (and ex-wives) who think they got a raw deal when a judge approved their alimony payments may be able to adjust their payments, but they would have to do so under the old law.
“There was always the possibility of amending the decision,” said Matthew Lane, a divorce attorney in West Palm Beach. “A fundamental, material, unexpected, involuntary and permanent change of circumstances had to occur. If that happens, the courts always have the power to go back and adjust.
He said that has not changed.
But the new law didn’t suddenly enable former taxpayers to suddenly claim relief that wasn’t available before July 1, 2023.
“The new law is geared toward the assumption that both parties work,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Lindsey Chase. The previous law permitted permanent maintenance in cases where the spouses were married Over 17 years old. This law assumed gender roles that had not been taken for granted in lower- and middle-class families for decades, where husbands and fathers were the breadwinners, and wives and mothers were the homemakers. Divorce in those circumstances, Chase said, would devastate the woman. Alimony helped correct it.
“You can identify the person who benefits the least from the new law,” she said. “It’s the older woman, the housewife. These are the ones who will be hit hardest.”
Lawyers said the new law had no impact on child support.