Florida Support Reform and the LGBTQ+ Community

Does Florida End of Long-Term Alimony Matter for Same-Sex Couples? It depends. Florida residents may finally say goodbye to permanent alimony, while some same-sex couples in a dissolution approach near potential eligibility for such compensation. The Florida House of Representatives gave final approval for alimony reform earlier this month after the Florida Senate took a similar measure. With the expressed support of both Democrats and Republicans, the cooperation of the Florida Bar’s family law department, and support from practitioners across the state, it appears that a new legal system will go into effect on July 1 with significant implications for future financial obligations between divorcing spouses. It could actually mean the end of permanent upkeep.

For many Florida same-sex couples, the change may not have a significant impact, as it is unlikely that the average same-sex couple seeking a divorce would have been granted permanent alimony anyway if they had married in Florida. The 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges led to the legalization of same-sex marriage statewide, leading to numerous same-sex marriages throughout Florida. Anyone who marries this year or later would have a marriage of 7 to 8 years, which is nowhere near long enough to be eligible for permanent Florida alimony unless there are exceptional circumstances or clear and compelling evidence to support it that such an award is justified. These are very strict standards that must be met.

However, after the Obergefell decision, Florida recognized same-sex marriages from jurisdictions where they were legally recognized at the time of the marriage. This meant that a 2004 marriage of a same-sex couple in Massachusetts was treated as a medium-term marriage in Florida (longer than seven years but less than 17) before Florida’s LGBT community could even marry. Today, the same Massachusetts couple, if still married, could celebrate their 19th wedding anniversary in what is considered a long-term marriage, and a divorcing spouse could successfully claim permanent alimony under current legal and jurisdictional standards.

Legalized same-sex marriage was a patchwork quilt around the world and in the United States for many years before it was recognized nationwide after Obergefell. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont were the first states to recognize same-sex marriage, while the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, and South Africa were the first countries to legalize it. Couples who marry at the time those jurisdictions first recognized same-sex marriage would enter into a marriage that is considered a long-term marriage under Florida law, meaning they are currently entitled to permanent alimony under current law. Law expected to change on July 1st.

Every marriage has its own dynamics and circumstances, and ongoing alimony payments are not always necessary. Many long-term heterosexual marriages end without the granting of alimony. A significant number of them do, and it is important for those involved in same-sex marriages to fully understand the implications of the alimony reform and how their marriage is currently classified under current state law.

John B. Dorris is an attorney with Rebecca L. Palmer Law Group in Orlando specializing in family law, mediation and creditor rights. Rebecca L. Palmer is an Orlando-based family and marriage attorney and a managing partner of the Rebecca L. Palmer Law Group.

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