Significant alimony reform was proposed during the 2015 Legislative Session in Florida; however no bill was passed during the session, which ended several days early when the House adjourned.
The suggested legislation included guidelines for the determination of both the amount and length of alimony awards. The legislation eliminated the current definitions of marriages as short, moderate, or long-term. The definition of income was substantially rewritten and included a provision for and definition of “potential” income as that which could be earned by a party using his or her best efforts.
The alimony guidelines created a formula for the courts to follow, with factors to consider and the ability to vary from the guidelines if circumstances warranted. Contrary to current Florida law, every alimony award would have an ending date, effectively eliminating what is currently termed “permanent” alimony.
The bill also mandates the imputation of income in cases where a party is found to be voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. While Florida law currently requires imputation of income for purposes of a child support award, it does not for alimony.
The proposed bill also addressed modification of alimony cases. In part, the legislation modified current law by expanding the court’s authority to reduce or terminate an alimony award where a supportive relationship exists or existed within the year before the petition for modification was filed. The bill allowed for the court to reduce or terminate alimony based on a supportive relationship between the alimony recipient and another person without requiring there to be cohabitation. It codified current case law by providing that a reduction or termination of alimony would be retroactive to the date the petition for modification was filed. The bill further codified current case law in the area of retirement, authorizing a petition for modification to be filed based upon a person’s actual retirement.
The Senate and House bills were substantially similar in the legislation regarding alimony. However, the Senate bill included a presumption that a 50/50 timesharing schedule was in the best interests of all children. The Family Law Section opposes this provision because it believes that this language attempts to fashion a “one size fits all” solution to all cases, which is detrimental and not in the best interests of all Florida families. Currently Florida law requires the courts to consider a number of factors and apply those factors to the actual facts of each family to determine the best timesharing plan for that family and those children. While a court may have the ability to deviate from the factors, the reality is that they generally do not do so. Where a presumption is written into the law, it is generally applied. It is not always the best decision.
It is expected that alimony reform will resurface again next legislative session in Florida.
For more information or for an assessment of your particular circumstances, call us to schedule an appointment for a case evaluation.