In recent legislative sessions there has been an urge to make sweeping changes to Florida’s maintenance law that would seriously transform our system and cause significant harm to families in Florida. This year’s push came in the form of House bill 843 and Senate Act 1832.
These bills would cause negative and far-reaching changes to the current maintenance system, including the abolition of long-term maintenance and the adoption of part-time equal rights, along with other provisions that ignore the concept of marriage as an equal partnership.
First, long-term maintenance is misleadingly referred to as permanent or lifelong maintenance. Neither of these names is a correct description of this type of support, as long-term support can be changed at the discretion of a judge in the event of a material change in circumstances or a supportive relationship. Long-term maintenance can only be changed if the parties so agree in the divorce settlement.
Furthermore, by eliminating long-term alimony and prioritizing certain types of alimony, as this legislation does, we are creating an unfair system that leaves a party severely defenseless and opens up the possibility of alimony being granted on a short-term basis. fixed-term marriages where there is no maintenance entitlement and long-term marriages where a legally preferred type of maintenance may not be the fair solution.
Another worrying part of this bill is the presumption of equal part-time use, as an assumption of 50/50 part-time use incorrectly assumes that all families are equal and should be treated equally.
While evidence-based psychological research has shown that children are best when they have good parental leave and an ongoing relationship with both parents, there is no optimal time that benefits each child as each child has different developmental needs – what works? a toddler cannot work for an adolescent.
Additionally, current law recognizes that children should continue to have contact with both parents, but it is up to the court to ultimately consider a variety of factors, including anything relevant to determining a particular parenting plan, including timeshare Schedule.
This fact-based determination should be continued and accounted for of the many factors that affect a child’s upbringing, rather than just having a blanket policy that immediately assumes 50/50 timeshare as SB 1832 and HB 843 would.
Furthermore, the assumption of the same part-time use, which must now be refuted to lead to a different conclusion, wrongly shifts the burden of proof and conviction to one parent in order to prove the lack of involvement or incompetence of the other parent – even in extreme cases, where abuse or neglect has been.
The reality is that equal timeshare adoption rewards all parents, regardless of whether one parent has historically and consistently acted against, or even compromised, the child’s best interests.
While HB 843 and SB 1832 should be rejected primarily because, among other things, they abolish long-term child support and adopt the presumption of equal part-time use, there are reasonable changes Florida lawmakers could consider that would improve our system while also ensuring fairness towards all parties involved.
Some of the sensible changes that could be made to Florida’s support system include determining normal retirement for a change in support, changes in supportive relationships, and allowing the court to award life insurance in exceptional cases.
Bottom line: hasty changes to the maintenance reform will not bring better results for Florida families. This is an issue with far-reaching implications for all concerned; Therefore, we recommend that you seriously consider the impact that changes to the existing system will have on families in Florida.
We ask Florida lawmakers to consider the families of our state, especially women, children and seniors, who would be adversely affected by HB 843 and SB 1832, and to stand with them against this legislation.
Amy Hamlin chairs the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section.