FL Gov. vetoes alimony overhaul, marking third failure in a decade of “reform” efforts

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday vetoed a child support overhaul bill sponsored by his political party’s state leader and opposed by the National Organization for Women, the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section and other critics.

It was the third strike in a decade for groups of ex-spouses trying to end permanent alimony not only in future divorce settlements but also in settlements made years and decades ago.

DeSantis’ veto message focused on retroactivity in the Senate Act of 1796, although his proponents disputed that it would apply to pre-existing alimony agreements.

Former Gov. Rick Scott vetoed similar legislation in 2013 and 2016.

“If CS/CS/SB 1796 were to become law and apply retroactively, as the legislature intended, it would affect unconstitutionally acquired rights under certain pre-existing prenuptial agreements,” DeSantis wrote in his veto message. He quoted Article I, Section 10 of the Florida Constitution.

Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans also rejected the bill during the 2022 regular session.

“Proudly Proud”

Jan Killilea, speaking for a group of ex-spouses, mostly women, who call themselves the First Wives Advocacy Group, expressed her gratitude that SB 1796 failed like its predecessors, but she said the recurring struggle has taken its toll her and other “First” demanded wives.”

“I am deeply proud of the women and men who have had the inner strength to stand up for what they believe in,” Killilea, marketing manager for a small business in West Palm Beach, said in a text message to Phoenix.

“For nearly 10 years, we’ve dodged arrows while opposing the alimony reform laws. Today our governor put an end to the fight for 2022.”

Five days ago, while still awaiting the governor’s decision on whether to sign or reject SB 1796, Killilea expressed fatigue and dismay.

“Our group is tired of reform,” she wrote. “We keep fighting for all the women who don’t have a voice and don’t know how that happened when he [the governor] signs the bill. … We are fed up with these wealthy men trying to destroy us.”

Tampa trial attorney Marc Johnson, chairman of the Florida Family Fairness support reform group, criticized the governor for his veto.

“We are incredibly disappointed at the veto of this much-needed law. Today, Gov. DeSantis has put divorce attorneys ahead of Florida families and parents who love their children and want to be a part of their lives,” Johnson wrote Friday.

“I am personally disappointed that special interests continue to control policy decisions in Florida, to the detriment of hard-working individuals who continue to be taken advantage of when they are going through the hardest time of their lives,” Johnson continued.

“Reg. DeSantis disregarded the will of the Florida people and elected officials who passed this excellent law.”

Sponsors of the bill included Senator Joe Gruters of Sarasota and Charlotte Counties, who is chairman of the Florida Republican Party, and Republican Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka of Lee County. The prosecutor’s family law division and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers testified against the law during the session, requesting DeSantis to veto it.

“Since the beginning of the 2022 legislative session, we have raised concerns about the retrospective effects of Senate Act 1796. If this law had been signed, it would have turned thousands and thousands of settlements on their head, courts would have defaulted and the lives of many Floridians would have been up in the air,” said Tampa Family Court Judge Philip Wartenberg and Family Law Attorney Boca Raton, Heather Apicella, chair and immediate past chair of the Family Law Division of the Bar Association, in a joint statement.

“We thank Gov. Ron DeSantis for vetoing this measure and for his understanding of the bad precedent that retroactivity of the Contracted Contracts Bill would have set in the state of Florida.”

retroactivity disputed

Florida Family Fairness and the bill’s sponsors had insisted that SB 1796 was not “retroactive” to allow ex-spouses to pay permanent child support when they reach retirement age.

“The concept of ‘retroactivity’ is a red herring by the FLS [Family Law Section] and First Wives (and husbands),” wrote the group’s treasurer, Michel Buhler, a Coral Gables businessman, in a May 14 letter to Phoenix, slightly changing the name of the First Wives group to reflect that men are also members.

“In Florida, any court order for alimony or settlement that is not expressly non-modifiable is always subject to modification by the court for a material change in circumstances. That first wives (and husbands) claim that they have relied on the permanence of permanent alimony may be true, but nowhere is this guaranteed by law. ”

SB 1796 would also have introduced a 50/50 presumption for time-sharing the minor children of a divorced couple; eliminated adultery as a consideration in alimony agreements; and set a financial floor for spouses who lose ongoing alimony to keep them from falling into poverty, defined as 130 percent of the federal poverty line (about $18,000 a year for a one-person household and about $43,000 for a family of five, so the American Council on Aging).

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