TALLAHASSEE — Continuing decades of efforts to rewrite the state’s child support laws, the Florida House on Wednesday approved a controversial measure that would eliminate permanent child support payments and set maximum payments based on marriage length.
The measure, now put into action by Gov. Ron DeSantis, sparked emotional debate from people on both sides of the issue at committee meetings over the past few weeks. The Senate approved the bill (SB 1796) last week.
This is the third time the Legislature has passed maintenance overhauls, with former Gov. Rick Scott twice vetoing the legislation. A standoff on the issue led to a near-riot outside Scott’s office in 2016.
Related: Gov. Rick Scott has vetoed a controversial child support bill
One of the most controversial parts of this year’s legislation would change the procedure for changing alimony payments when those who paid want to retire. Critics argued the plan could impoverish older ex-spouses who were housewives and depended on the payments.
The paying ex-spouses would have to give one year’s notice of their intention to retire and could, except in certain circumstances, stop making retirement payments.
Support recipients who have an unsupported income of up to 130 percent of the federal poverty line, are full-time caregivers for mentally or physically disabled children, or are unable to support themselves could appeal the pension decisions under the law. Judges could extend the maintenance period in these cases.
Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat and attorney, argued Wednesday that the proposal is “fundamentally unfair” to housewives who are “dumped” after their spouses succeed.
“It’s fundamentally unfair to predominantly women, older women who have chosen not to improve their job skills, that they don’t want to pursue a career, women who have dedicated themselves not only to raising children but also to the careers of their spouses,” said geller “Now they are becoming impoverished. It’s just not right and it’s just not fair. … They have the right to get something back for their choice.”
But house sponsor Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers called the proposal “the fairest and most equitable bill that has been presented to the legislature” and encouraged lawmakers to pass the bill to “modernize our child support laws and better serve the needs of our children.” to protect .”
She said current law already allows alimony payers to change payment schedules if they want to retire.
“So what’s the problem?” Personen-Mulicka, a lawyer, said. “It is very expensive to go to court. Going to court to make changes is very expensive and time-consuming. And judges don’t have statutory guidance, so you can get a whole range of opinions, but that’s not always fair and just.”
The Family Law Division of the Florida Bar Association immediately requested a veto by DeSantis of the bill Wednesday.
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“Proposed alimony changes in this bill are retroactive and will affect existing and pending alimony payments, affecting countless prenuptial agreements and final judgments,” said Heather Apicella, chair of the family law division. “This sets a dangerous precedent for contractual agreements in Florida, and we are deeply concerned that this public policy will erase justice and establish a system that heavily favors one party while needlessly harming the other.”
But Marc Johnson of the Florida Family Fairness group, which supported the measure, praised the lawmaker.
“SB 1796 would modernize Florida’s alimony law by making the process fairer and more predictable for all parties while reducing litigation costs,” Johnson said in a prepared statement. “This law also protects children and allows both parties to retire with dignity while giving courts discretion to protect vulnerable dependents.”
The plan, passed by the House by a vote of 74 to 42, would eliminate permanent child support and set maximum payment periods. Spouses married for less than three years are not entitled to alimony, and those married 20 years or more are entitled to payments for up to 75 percent of the marriage’s length.
The bill would limit alimony to “that amount determined to be the reasonable need of the creditor or an amount not to exceed 35 percent of the difference between the parties’ net incomes, whichever is less.”
Another part of the bill would require judges to start with a “presumption” that children should divide their time evenly between parents. Scott largely based his 2016 veto of a child support bill on a similar child-sharing provision.
Rep. Alex Andrade, a Pensacola Republican who has sponsored similar versions of the child support overhaul in the past, supported the proposed child-sharing presumption, saying studies show that a father’s presence in a child’s life is “for that child was crucial”.
“For no other reason alone do we support this bill so that we can continue to encourage the vast majority of good couples who play a role in their children’s lives, want to spend time with their children and rebuild one of the most toxic experiences in their lives bring back the positive, which is the children,” argued Andrade, a lawyer.
But Rep. Emily Slosberg-King, D-Boca Raton, argued that judges currently “should consider a child’s needs and interests” when determining a parenting plan. Slosberg-King, also an attorney, noted that in situations where one parent is a drug addict and the other isn’t, there shouldn’t be a 50-50 guess.
“A 50:50 time split shouldn’t be considered ideal in every case,” she said. “The premise that children share equal time between both parents before factors related to the best interests of the child are considered is actually contrary to the best interests of the child, let alone a significant legal or procedural hurdle for self-represented litigants to overcome.”
By Dara Kam, Florida Intelligence Service
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Coverage of the Tampa Bay Times legislation in Florida
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