Florida House subcommittee approves alimony reform invoice

TALLAHASSEE, Florida. – Efforts to reform Florida child support laws are progressing rapidly at the State Capitol.

But the law includes a clause that has bogged down reform efforts in the past.

Permanent alimony payments would end under the legislation. It would be replaced by a formula based on the length of a marriage.

For the first time, the proposed change has the support of the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section.

“This is something the Section has opposed in the past, but we believe it is time to move away from this concept of permanent maintenance,” said Philip Wartenberg, Chair-elect of the Family Law Section.

The most controversial provision states that custody issues begin with the assumption that the parents will divide time evenly.

“What would happen is you’re going to have a big hurdle, that guess, before you even get to the 20 factors,” Wartenberg said.

Before the bill was approved by the Florida House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee on Thursday, the sponsor said there was a goal.

“To ensure this leads to a better system that provides predictability, certainty and fairness,” said Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, voted no.

“If you have a 50-50 assumption, that can tie a judge’s hands,” Eskamani said.

The sponsor twice refused to talk to us about the legislation. What we would have asked is why the sponsor included the assumption that parents would share children equally. The guesswork has killed the bill in the past.

And Florida NOW’s Barbara Devane tells us that the threat of sharing children is often used as a bargaining chip.

“To get them to agree to something that isn’t in their financial and economic interests or those of the child,” says Devane.

The legislation would also create a way for the alimony payer to reduce the amount or stop it altogether when someone reaches retirement age.

Under current Florida law, a judge evaluates 17 to 20 factors to decide child custody. It would remain, but the fear is that it would take a backseat to the 50-50 share rule.

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