Douglas A. Greenbaum
Florida Bar’s Family Law Department works collectively and as individual family law attorneys to advocate laws that protect strong, healthy families and, most importantly, put the needs of children first.
At every Florida legislative session we carefully review the legislation to ensure that this protection is not undermined. Unfortunately, there are almost always meetings attempting to change the alimony and timeshare laws – an issue that we as family law attorneys deal with on a daily basis.
This year, that threat came in the form of the Senate Act of 1922 and the House Act of 1559, and we must speak out strongly against it as we believe these laws will ultimately harm families in Florida by making an automatic guess of 50-50 Timeshare and drastic changes introduce the current effective system of maintenance.
Initially, automatically accepting 50-50 timeshares, a major part of the bills, could actually put children at risk in many cases. The Section firmly believes that this presumption would have the unintended effect of falsely rewarding parents who historically and consistently have violated or even endangered the child’s best interests. SB 1922 and HB 1559 even ignore families dealing with domestic violence or struggling with substance abuse and mental illness.
Today there are laws that recognize the uniqueness of every child and every family circumstance. This is taken into account when developing a timeshare plan. Our bylaws already ensure that every child has frequent and sustained contact with both parents and encourage them to share the rights and duties of the parents.
In addition, the negative and far-reaching changes to maintenance in SB 1922 and HB 1559, which among other things abolish long-term maintenance and generally ignore the concept that marriage is an equal partnership, would also harm families in Florida. It has the potential to force vulnerable individuals, especially seniors, into need of government assistance, increases the need for litigation in alimony cases, and removes almost any discretion from Florida court judges who deal with unique families on a daily basis.
Many who are divorced and have to do with maintenance are not looking for guidelines or unusual inquiries or arguments, but simply ask for fair considerations, which our current system already offers. In fact, the extensive changes in SB 1922 and HB 1559 would only lead to problems that do not currently exist in our maintenance system or that have already been resolved by the courts through case law. This is a solution to a problem that does not exist in search of a problem.
For these combined reasons, we urge lawmakers to maintain strong, healthy families, put children first, and oppose laws that would suggest 50-50 timeshares and dramatically change our state’s maintenance laws. We respectfully call on our legislators to vote no on SB 1922 and HB 1559.
Douglas A. Greenbaum is the chairman of the Florida Bar’s family law division.