How payments would overhaul Florida baby help legal guidelines

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers are making a renewed effort to overhaul the state’s child support laws, with the proposal including controversial provisions that could apply retrospectively, a controversial plan addressing child-sharing agreements, and a new process that includes the retirement of ex-spouses Paying alimony.

Efforts to rewrite state child support laws have sparked emotional debate for nearly a decade. The fight has in part pitted stay-at-home housewives and fathers against breadwinners who argue they are being forced to continue working past retirement age so they can afford to make the necessary monthly payments to ex-spouses.

Former Gov. Rick Scott twice vetoed legislation that would have overtaken the child support statute. A standoff on the issue led to a near-riot outside Scott’s office in 2016.

Proposals due for a vote in the House and Senate this year would abolish so-called permanent alimony and set a maximum duration of alimony based on the length of marriage. Spouses married for less than three years are not entitled to alimony, and those married 20 years or more are entitled to payments for up to 75 percent of the marriage’s length.

The amount of alimony payments would be limited to “that amount determined as the creditor’s reasonable need or to an amount not to exceed 35 percent of the difference between the net incomes of the parties, whichever is less,” the statement said Senate Bill (SB 1796). which was approved by the Rules Committee on Tuesday.

The measure would also require judges to start with a “presumption” that children should split their time evenly between parents. Scott largely based his 2016 veto of a child support bill on a similar child-sharing provision.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sarasota Republican Joe Gruters, would also establish procedures related to the retirement of ex-spouses who pay child support.

Ex-spouses who pay would have to give a year’s notice that they intend to retire and could, except in certain circumstances, stop making payments at retirement.

Under Gruter’s plan, dependents whose income would be up to 130 percent of the federal poverty line without child support, who are full-time caregivers for mentally or physically disabled children, or who are unable to support themselves could appeal pension decisions. Judges could extend the maintenance period in these cases.

The proposed changes drew emotional testimonies from ex-spouses on both sides of the issue during Senate committee meetings this week.

Camille Fiveash, who lives in Milton, told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday that she has been traveling to Tallahassee for a decade trying to persuade lawmakers not to allow retrospective changes that would affect ex-spouses like her.

Fiveash said she couldn’t afford a lawyer when she got divorced, so she accepted a deal from her ex-husband that would see him pay alimony if he gets to keep his retirement savings.

“I’ve been fighting this law for 10 years. … It’s so stressful for us every year,” a tearful Fiveash told the panel, describing her experience at the Capitol. “I was pushed by a man. I was being followed by a man and I’ve received death threats. Death threats over this bill. I’m just a middle class woman surviving. … I make $10 an hour. My children don’t have the money to take care of me.”

But Natalie Sohn-Willis, a West Palm Beach doctor, said she’s also been coming to the Capitol for more than a decade to campaign for child support law changes.

Son Willis told the rules committee on Tuesday that she is paying child support to her ex-husband for the 16th year – a year longer than their marriage lasted.

“I beg you. Don’t let this year go by. I’ve been coming here for ten years, begging that my children never have to go through this nightmare that I’ve been living through for the past 15 years. There’s only one winner in this and the whole divorce. … The only winners are the lawyers because they take the money home,” she said.

Carla McAuliffe, a 59-year-old Deerfield Beach resident, asked senators Tuesday to dismiss Gruters’ proposal.

“It’s like being told that signed contracts, which are legal documents, aren’t worth the paper they’re written on and that the laws designed to support and protect us aren’t there for us. And I don’t want to believe that,” McAuliffe said.

But Gruters, who is also chairman of the Florida Republican Party, told the rules committee that the bill would create “consistency and predictability” for families and courts.

The measure will not affect child support agreements, which he describes as “unchangeable”.

“The only thing the pension scheme does is provide parameters and guidance to the courts” when it comes to contract changes, Gruters said.

“I want to make that very clear. If a recipient has given up assets in exchange for permanent alimony, (the) bill does not allow the payer to stop paying alimony,” he said. “This changes the process of what is already allowed, with the sole aim of ending litigation.”

Alan Frisher, who helped start efforts to change the child support laws about a dozen years ago, urged senators to support the bill.

“People change. Situations change. Economies change. Laws need to change to keep up with current trends and times,” Frisher said Tuesday. “Is it perfect? ​​No. But what exactly is legislation?”

But Andrea Reid, an attorney speaking on behalf of the Florida Bar Association’s Family Law Division, predicted that the law, if passed, would spark litigation and create confusion in tens of thousands of divorce cases in the pipeline.

“This law encourages the art of play,” Reid said. “If this law passes, and it has retroactive effect in it, it absolutely does, if it passes, 76,000 cases will come to an absolute standstill and everyone will have to decide what they are going to do and everyone will have to do their direction change.”

McAuliffe leaned against a window ledge in the Capitol and sobbed after the rules committee passed the measure.

“I worry it’s retroactive. I gave up my career because we decided together that we’re going to do this,” she said, adding that she needed to start the job market “like a teenager.” “All the things I gave up to sort out in the divorce I can’t go back to.”

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