The Florida Legislature has been trying to make changes to the child support laws for years.
In the past decade, lawmakers have presented legislation to the governor three times, all of which have been vetoed. Now they’re trying again, with a notable change that affects retroactivity.
“It eliminates permanent alimony in Florida and replaces it with permanent alimony that is granted for a set period of time,” said Rep. John Paul Temple, R-Wildwood, explaining to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee the bill he sponsors.
The bill sets out how long and how much alimony judges can award. Factors such as adultery and the length of the marriage can be taken into account. Gov. Rick Scott twice vetoed similar legislation, followed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“It’s been like this for quite some time,” Temple said. “But I’m happy to report that both sides involved in this, the lawyers and the reform group, agree on every part of this bill.”
Attorney Andrea Reid of the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section says they have long fought this law because of the retroactive component, which would have sparked a number of requests to amend old agreements.
“This is a good piece of legislation for this year,” Reid told lawmakers. “This is not unconstitutionally retrospective and I am proud to support this bill on behalf of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Florida Bar Family Law Section.”
While sponsors say that doesn’t apply to pre-existing, unmodifiable agreements, the legislation gives judges leeway in making decisions about alimony and amendments – and opens the door for some old agreements to be revisited.
“We believe the entire law is retroactive,” said Jan Killilea of Palm Beach County. She leads the First Wives Advocacy Group, which focuses on child support and child custody laws in Florida.
“It really upsets a lot of women because they gave up their marital assets for alimony. They couldn’t afford the house in the Hamptons. They couldn’t afford the boat at the marina,” she says. “So they gave up that fortune to get alimony, and now[legislators]want to take that away.”
Under the legislation, the court can reduce or terminate alimony payments when the payer has reached normal retirement age, as determined by the Social Security Administration.
In addition, the court must reduce or terminate maintenance if the recipient is in a supportive relationship with another person who is not related by blood or marriage. The payer must prove that the relationship existed in the 365 days prior to filing the petition for divorce or petition to amend the agreement.
“Does that mean if someone was in a relationship with the opposite sex or same-sex who wasn’t a family member and they had to live above someone’s garage to make ends meet in this time of inflation, right? trigger a change or the end of alimony under the bill as a supportive relationship?” Killilea wonders. “It’s very vague and very subjective.”
The biggest problem for Killilea is that the bill does nothing to enforce child support agreements. She says she’s owed more than half a million dollars, but hiring a lawyer is expensive, so she’s been handling her own legal files for a decade.
“I was awarded the contempt motions. I have warrants. I have an income withholding order, but as long as he’s willing to hold his nose up in court, there’s nothing I can do about it,” she says. “At the end of the day, I wonder how can we be a rule of law or rule of law if we can’t enforce the laws that we already have on the books?”
She says traveling to Tallahassee to testify before lawmakers is an emergency for most of the women in her group because of finances or fear of retribution.
Proponents say the legislation will bring much-needed finality to the divorce process. It is now in the House and Senate committees.