TALLAHASSEE – Could the fourth time be the appeal?
After governors vetoed three previous attempts to change Florida’s child support laws, the latest revision will go to the full Senate for a vote.
The Family Law Division of the Florida Bar Association and proponents of overhauling the alimony laws clashed for a decade. But the former enemies have banded together this year to back a plan to get rid of “permanent” alimony and make a host of other changes.
But a group of mostly older women who depend on the payments are asking lawmakers to block the overhaul and say they have been left out of discussions about changes that could turn their lives upside down.
Several members of the First Wives Advocacy Group addressed the Senate Rules Committee before the panel approved the proposal (SB 1416) on Wednesday.
As with previous versions of the bill, their primary concern is a proposal to eliminate permanent alimony. The measure would set up a process for ex-spouses who are paying alimony to request changes to alimony agreements if they wish to retire.
Supporters of the law say it would legally codify a court decision in a 1992 divorce case that judges use to guide retirement decisions.
Senate bill sponsor Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who has pushed similar legislation in the past, tried to reassure the committee Wednesday that this year’s version would not unconstitutionally affect existing child support rules, a concern raised by Gov. Ron DeSantis was voiced when he vetoed a child support bill last year.
This year’s proposal “referred to current case law,” Gruters said, citing the 1992 ruling.
But Leisa Athey, a permanent child support recipient, said the bill included only “strategically selected parts” of the decades-old case.
Athey said judges sometimes agree to permanent alimony when assets have been dispersed from an ex-spouse.
“When people get divorced, there’s not always an equitable distribution,” Athey said. “The way judges fight that is that they award permanent alimony so each party just gets away with their fair share.”
Under the proposed changes, alimony recipients have no recourse if, for example, a business has been dissolved or transferred to someone else, Athey argued.
“How do they come back and get their half of the business together?” she said. “It’s over and done with. … Listen, this happens all the time with divorce.”
Proponents of change have spent 10 years revising laws that have not been updated in decades. Many of the proponents are affluent professionals who claim that lifelong child support obligations have forced them to work well past the time they wanted to retire.
Last year’s veto by DeSantis marked the third time a bill had passed through the Republican-controlled legislature, only to be defeated. Former Gov. Rick Scott twice vetoed such legislation, with a 2016 standoff over the matter resulting in a near-riot outside Scott’s office.