TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday vetoed a measure that would have overhauled the state’s child support laws in one of the most emotional issues of the 2022 legislative session.
DeSantis’ veto marked the third time that support system change advocates have successfully pushed bills through the legislature, only to have them snuffed out. Former Gov. Rick Scott twice vetoed such legislation, with a 2016 standoff over the matter resulting in a near-riot outside Scott’s office.
This year’s bill would have partially eliminated permanent alimony and set maximum payments based on the length of marriage. As in the past, the measure caused emotional debates in the legislative period that ended in March.
One of the most controversial parts of the bill (SB 1796) would have changed the process for changing alimony payments when those who paid want to retire. Critics argued the proposal threatened to impoverish older ex-spouses who were housewives and relied on payments.
Related: Controversial Florida child support bill went to Gov. DeSantis
Friday’s veto letter from DeSantis highlighted concerns about the bill, which would allow ex-spouses to change existing child support agreements.
“If CS/CS/SB 1796 were to become law and apply retrospectively, as the legislature intended, it would affect unconstitutionally acquired rights under certain pre-existing marriage agreements,” the governor wrote.
Many ex-spouses who appeared before legislative committees to speak against the bill said they agreed to give up assets at the time of their divorce in exchange for permanent alimony.
However, proponents of the revision argued that the bill would “modernize” Florida’s child support laws by making the process fairer and more predictable for divorced families.
“We are incredibly disappointed at the veto of this much-needed law. Today Gov. DeSantis voted for divorce attorneys over Florida’s families and parents who love their children and want to be a part of their lives,” Marc Johnson, a Tampa attorney who is president of the pro-overhaul group Florida Family Fairness, said in a prepared statement.
Under the measure, people married for less than three years would not be eligible for alimony, and people married for 20 years or more would be eligible for payments for up to 75 percent of the marriage’s length.
Related: Florida’s child support carousel drains parents, costs kids
Another part of the bill would have required judges to begin 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.
The Florida Bar’s Family Law Division, which campaigned against the bill, thanked the governor “for understanding the bad precedent that retroactivity” of the measure would have set.
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“If this law had been signed, it would have turned thousands upon thousands of settlements on their head, courts would have defaulted and the lives of many Floridians would have been upset,” said the statement, which was shared with Section Chair Philip Wartenberg. and the immediate past chair, Heather Apicella. said.
People and organizations on both sides of the issue have lobbied heavily for the DeSantis office.
The group First Wives Advocacy tweeted Friday that they had served DeSantis a petition with more than 2,000 signatures asking for a veto.
As of Friday, the governor’s office had received 5,939 emails in support of the bill and 1,250 against, along with 349 phone calls for and 289 against the measure.
When asked for a list of phone calls and emails about the bill, the DeSantis office also provided excerpts of messages asking the governor to veto it.
A memo by Felice Schulaner argued that the changes in child support would primarily harm women and families.
“The likely consequences are that women will largely be hit hardest, particularly women who have divorced after long marriages where they may have put their careers on hold to support their now ex-husbands. How many women are pushed into poverty? How many women will lose their homes?” said part of Schulaner’s message. “I understand that your rich male friends may want to divorce their wives for a new model, but the injustice of that is extraordinary.”
In another message, Murielle Fournier wrote that she had reached an “amicable global settlement” with her ex-husband “in good faith.” According to the agreement, her ex-husband is not allowed to change his payments.
“It is a contract that I have entered into under applicable law. I work and have to rent a room because I can’t afford my own apartment. I don’t own a house, no retirement savings. No nest egg. This bill will ruin me financially,” she wrote.
By Dara Kam, Florida Intelligence Service