Florida Bar Affiliation’s Household Regulation Division Says It No Longer Helps Alimony Reform Invoice Orlando
Shortly before the end of their 2016 session, Florida legislature passed a bill to Governor Rick Scott that has put the Florida Bar in a strange bind: The Bar Association’s family law department is now asking the governor to veto a bill Most of it, he wrote, was lobbying and wanted to see this year go through.
The bill, a measure to reform child support payments, is probably the most controversial law to get its way in the Statehouse this year. It wasn’t big news like fracking or gambling, but it has been bitterly debated on legislative committees and on social media, and people on both sides of the debate – those for maintenance reform and those against – have a lot at stake in it the battle.
On one side are dependents, many of them women who have given up their jobs for years to raise children and improve careers for their ex-husbands. On the flip side, there are dependents – mostly men, but some women too – who feel they won’t have to pay their ex-spouses for the rest of their lives and that the current system is bleeding them to death.
If the reform measure is signed, the bill would change the way courts determine alimony – it would give judges guidelines for deciding on alimony, limit the length of alimony for recipients, remove alimony for life, and set specific circumstances under which maintenance payments are granted can be changed or terminated. This is something that Tom Sasser, a West Palm Beach attorney and former chairman of the Florida Bar Association’s family law division who serves as the bar association spokesperson on alimony earlier this year, says it has long been needed in Florida be.
“There are no maintenance guidelines today,” he says. “There is a list of factors for the court to consider, but they are not arithmetic. We say certain types of alimony are available for a specific length of marriages, but we do not provide a guideline. It is very much a matter of discretion in Florida , and that’s exactly it. ” the bill wants to change. … There is a framework in which you can negotiate, so you are not dealing with extremes. That was really the main driving force behind it. In the past you had to deal with a high degree of variability, and it varied from district to district, from courtroom to courtroom. “
However, the draft law also contains problematic provisions. Among these, Sasser says, is a last-minute addition that removes guidelines for marriages that lasted longer than 20 years and, in those cases, encourages judges to balance the incomes of the two ex-spouses. Sasser says the whole point of the law was to prevent alimony payments from being arbitrary and wildly inconsistent, and that clause goes against its real purpose. The other arduous part is parenting, telling judges to assume that if children are involved in a divorce situation, both parents should be equally capable of raising them and should have 50-50 custody. Sasser says the Bar Association’s family law department is clearly opposed to this provision.
“The court should look at the children and decide what is best for them, regardless of what is best for the parents,” he says.
Some dependents – many of them women who say they spent their best years of work supporting husbands and families – also see other bill issues. Take, for example, Ann Dwyer of Longwood. She is 71 years old, married for 20 years, and moved around the country when her husband got a new job. She worked a bit, she says, but her main job was to look after the family so that her husband can concentrate on work.
“We got married in 1967 and both had bachelor’s degrees,” she says. “He left in 1988 and it took me four years to get a good job. … Between 1988 and 1992 I had to go back to school because my degree meant nothing.”
Worse, she says, she worked so little during their marriage that she didn’t earn much on social security, which she can’t rely on. Dependent on retirement also get half of their ex-spouse’s Social Security, but Dwyer says she still works 25 hours a week to make ends meet and she doesn’t think she’ll ever have enough money to live in to retire. The new Alimony Act removes what is known as “permanent” alimony and allows retirement payers to request that alimony end when they are ready to quit their job – a luxury Dwyer claims never expects.
“I’m 71 and still work even though I get my keep,” she says.
There is one provision in the Maintenance Act that annoys her in particular, she says, and it is a clause that states that a 10 percent increase in income for a maintenance payer may be enough to request a change in a maintenance contract. For example, if a woman who makes $ 10 an hour gets a $ 1 an hour raise when trying to get back on her feet after the divorce, her ex-husband could take her to court, to cut their alimony.
Sasser and proponents of the bill say this bill is not retroactive – it says it only applies to maintenance agreements in progress or after the bill came into effect on October 1, 2016, and does not automatically change existing maintenance agreements. The wording of the bill also states that its passage may not be the “sole basis” for maintenance payers to request changes to the maintenance arrangements, which Sasser says are still governed by the laws that were on the books at the time of the original maintenance arrangement because the The invoice itself does not represent a “major change in circumstances” required for the change. Concerns that the law could change existing agreements are unfounded.
However, Dwyer says the wording on the bill is tricky – it says a party is entitled to request an “immediate change” to the alimony if the recipient receives that 10 percent increase, as it is called “material” by law Change “might be viewed under certain circumstances.” She fears that lawyers and judges may interpret the 10 percent clause as a reason to bring former spouses to court in order to get a better deal.
“I make $ 15 an hour working for a divorce lawyer,” said Jan Killilea, a Boca Raton woman who divorced in 2009 after 25 years of marriage. She says she moved nine times in the course of their marriage to follow her husband’s career. “If I get a 10 percent raise now, my ex-husband, who made $ 365,000 last year, can accept me for a change.”
Killilea, who founded an organization called First Wives Advocacy Group to help women who receive support, has been extremely open about the law. She has been interviewed by NPR, testified before the legislature, and started Facebook groups where women like her can meet and talk about their situation. In return for her advocacy, she has been bullied on social media – a search for her name on Facebook comes up with posts where a group called First Husbands Alimony Group posted photos of her criticizing her for going out, traveling and Skiing. In one of their posts, the First Husbands group describes recipients of lifelong maintenance payments as “parasites with eligibility problems”.
Killilea says she is not completely opposed to the maintenance reform, but she says if it does happen it has to be comprehensive and fair to all parties. She points out that this bill does not strengthen enforcement, despite the fact that some dependents refuse to provide alimony (or even alimony). It also changes the law so that maintenance claims can be challenged if the recipients are in what is called a “supportive” relationship – current law requires cohabitation or marriage to end the maintenance – but it doesn’t really define what should be supportive that leaves it to the courts to determine based on a variety of factors.
Sasser says many of the dependents’ concerns about the bill are premature. He says judges’ decisions right now can unfairly affect either maintenance recipients or payers, and the new law creates some reasonable expectations of the process on both sides.
“A lot of people have commented, ‘Oh my god, this is going to leave women without money,'” he says. “But that’s not what these guidelines do. … What we have suggested is based on guidelines that are used in other states and countries, and they haven’t done all of the terrible things that people say. In others Jurisdictions in which these guidelines were applied. ” ‘People have made the same arguments and guess what? It did not happen.”
However, there is the childcare part of the law. A 50-50 joint contract assumes that both parents are equally capable of caring for children, and all costs are split based on the number of nights the children spend with each parent. If one parent does not use the allotted time for their children, critics point out that it is up to the other parent to look after them and still bear their full share of the care costs. Carey Hoffman, a divorced mother and advocate of support for women, points out that the new law leaves children vulnerable to the whims of disgruntled parents going through a contentious divorce.
“It starts at 50-50, then you have to come up with evidence as to why it doesn’t work,” she says, but it’s expensive to go to court over and over and most working parents can’t afford it. In the end, the children suffer. “The system is already not working, and this legislation only creates more mistakes. There are many family court matters that need to be dealt with and the other matters must be dealt with first.”
Sasser agrees that the bill’s childcare clause is encumbered, and even if the Bar’s Family Law Department could survive the 20-year marriage addition in the law, it cannot overlook the childcare component. He says it puts the Bar Association’s family law department in the “unenviable position of opposing the legislation it endorses”.
“It’s very frustrating because the section worked really hard on the maintenance piece and really wants it to pass,” he says. “But it’s also very much down to children. The # 1 rule in the family court system is that children come first [the Family Law section of the bar] is ready to fight his own maintenance laws to protect the well-being of the children. “