DeSantis ought to signal this 12 months’s alimony overhaul invoice, lawyer says

Marc D Johnson

On behalf of thousands who have been exposed to Florida’s family courts, Florida Family Fairness is asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign an Act (SB 1796) modernizing Florida’s family laws.

The sensible law, passed during the 2022 legislative session, is a thoughtful and well-planned approach that would bring Florida’s child support laws in line with those of other states and bring predictability and justice to a process that has historically torn families apart.

Unfortunately, the Florida Bar’s family law department, made up of divorce attorneys, would like you to believe otherwise. A March 19 opinion piece by Heather Apicella, published in the Tallahassee Democrat, urges Gov. DeSantis to veto sane family law reform on behalf of Florida’s divorce attorneys.

So far:Governor DeSantis, veto SB 1796; it puts our seniors and children at risk | opinion

They predictably block this reform because they are proverbial foxes, guarding the chicken coop and acting as self-proclaimed protectors of vulnerable women and children.

If they truly have the best interests of families at heart, they would support passage of SB 1796 to provide guidance, create predictability, reduce litigation, and treat mothers and fathers equally.

Marc D. Johnson, President of Florida Family Fairness

What is even more difficult to understand is that for the past year the Family Law Department has sat at a table with our group and lawmakers to take on the safeguards they felt were necessary.

What happened? business happens. Policies and predictability reduce litigation and therefore billable hours.

It’s time to do what’s best for Florida families by disarming children and enacting fair guidelines and predictability in the divorce process, with the by-product of less litigation and financial devastation for hard-working families.

Apicella argues that an initial statutory presumption of equality automatically leads to a 50/50 outcome, but as a practicing attorney she certainly knows that an initial presumption is just that, and the court will always do what is in the children’s best interests.

A presumption is rebuttable, not compelling and initially simply puts the parents on an equal footing. What’s wrong with two people being equal before the law when they go to court for the first time?

Lt.  gov.  Jeanette Nunez waves as she is recognized in the Florida Senate on opening day of the 2022 Florida Legislative Session, Tuesday, January 11, 2022.

The undeniable benefit of the bill is that it will finally eliminate permanent child support in Florida, create much-needed policies, and add predictability to an unpredictable system. Even the Family Law Department caved in during the legislature, when new chairman Phillip Wartenberg told lawmakers that “we believe the time has come to move away from this concept of permanent maintenance.”

This year’s draft law provides for maximum limits on the duration and amount of child support payments. It provides guidance for the courts when considering retirement while protecting vulnerable recipients and those with unmet basic needs.

Raising the panic alarm from divorce lawyers because the bill is said to be “retroactive” is misleading. Prosecutors in the House and Senate issued independent opinions saying the bill was not retroactive. The bill provides guidelines that courts can use when considering amendments to already modifiable cases.

It allows alimony payers who have worked hard to retire with dignity and not have to work until death. Prenuptial settlement agreements and final judgments are now legally modifiable unless specifically not modifiable, and nothing in this year’s legislation changes that, while protecting vulnerable recipients and those who have negotiated maintenance on assets.

We urge Governor DeSantis to continue to do what is best for Florida’s families and sign SB 1796 into law.

Marc D. Johnson is the Chair of Florida Family Fairness, an organization that supports and advocates laws that bring families together by modernizing child support laws to create fair, uniform, and consistent standards for judgments across the state. He is also the founder of the Tampa-based law firm of Larson Johnson, PL

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