‘A Form of Welfare’: Bill that may scrap everlasting little one assist funds on the ground of the House after heated debate

By Kelly Hayes
February 10, 2022

“Parental support is a form of caring. I’ve said it over and over again.’

Legislation to end life alimony has returned to the legislature and is now before it after clearing its last House committee on Tuesday night.

This year’s House of Representatives version (HB 1395), carried by Republican Representative Jenna Persons-Mulicka of Fort Myers, passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 15 to 6, but only after some heated debate.

The legislation would prohibit the granting of permanent alimony in future divorces and would also remove court-ordered permanent alimony. That leaves bridge-the-gap, rehab, and permanent alimony as options. Former couples could still agree on permanent maintenance in a marriage contract.

Currently, long-term alimony is subject to change at the judge’s discretion. A 1992 Florida Supreme Court ruling established that retirement is considered a change in circumstances that can alter child support payments.

One provision in the bill that drew opposition from lawmakers across the aisle is the assumption that equal division of time is in the best interests of children.

“My biggest issue with this bill is the 50/50 split, because I’m a child of divorce,” said Elizabeth Anne Fetterhoff, Republican representative for DeLand. “The parents, they got married, they signed a contract. I understand that, but the kids didn’t sign that contract through no fault of their own and shouldn’t be put under the strain of being in a 50/50 situation. I just don’t feel like that’s a necessary part of this bill.”

MP Ben Diamond also expressed concern about the 50/50 assumption.

“I’m where Rep. Fetterhoff is,” he said. “The most sensitive issue in a divorce is thinking about how parents who are no longer living together are raising their children.”

As for the maintenance portion of the legislation, lawmakers were divided on where they stood.

“Alimony payments are a form of welfare. I’ve said it over and over again. I’m not trying to be ugly. Welfare is financial support for people in need, period. This is welfare. That’s alimony,” said Escambia County Republican Assemblyman Michelle Salzman.

Salzman’s comment was criticized by Tampa Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart, who argued that cutting permanent child support payments would put those caring for children in compromising positions. Opponents say the legislation aims only to help the main breadwinner and unfairly disadvantages the other person.

“Call it welfare?” said Hart. “I call it taking care of your family — that woman you kept having children with who stayed at home and took care of her and never had the opportunity to educate herself.”

As in previous years, the bill met opposition from several current child support recipients who feared the changes could alter their modifiable child support payments and advocacy groups.

“With respect to alimony, the Section does not find it appropriate or necessary to automatically reduce or terminate existing alimony payments that were the result of a negotiated agreement or a court decision, as doing so would cause irreparable harm to the alimony recipients final judgment occurs,” said Heather Apicella, chair of the Florida Bar’s family law division. “We continue to work with supporters of the legislation to improve Florida’s current child support system.”

Apicella also expressed concern about the 50/50 timeshare presumption.

“It is paramount to the welfare of any child who is the subject of a timeshare dispute that their case be considered based on their unique circumstances,” she said. “The fact is, a parent’s ability to care for a child can vary widely and should be considered when determining timeshare arrangements.”

Several lawmakers have made repeated unsuccessful attempts to pass similar support reform measures in recent years. In this session, Sarasota Republican Joe Gruters sponsors the Senate bill (SB 1796).

The House of Representatives voted 74 to 38 last year to pass the bill, which failed in Senate committees. The law would come into force in July if passed.

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