Hurry and Wait: Florida Child Support and Custody Reform Act in Limbo – Spousal Support Legal Blogs Posted by Daniel Forrest

Daniel Wald

It’s been nearly two months since we wrote a series of posts about monumental and controversial legislation passed in both the State House and Senate through March 9th. Concerned about how child support and timeshares for parents would change in the future, Floridians have pins waiting to see if Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign it or veto it.

At the time of this writing on May 27, 2022, SB 1796 is still awaiting its decision and there is little news of its intentions. It would go into effect on July 1, which is fast approaching. The media reports that it was not officially sent to him, but he is next and last in line to make this decision.

Loud advocates on both sides of the issues have regularly spoken out. Under pressure, former Gov. Rick Scott twice vetoed similar bills. Let’s look again at the most controversial provisions.

Timeshare 50-50 guess
The law would force the judge in a divorce or other custody proceeding to assume that it would be in the best interests of the child for the parents to share custody of the child equally. This would place a duty on parents, if they do not agree, to provide evidence that doing so would not be in the best interests of the child. This can be particularly difficult for a parent without the resources to hire a lawyer – and can be detrimental to the child if all relevant evidence doesn’t make it to court.

Many suggest that there may be a family history of abuse, neglect, violence, criminal behavior, or mental health problems or substance abuse and that the suspicion in these cases could be harmful to children. An opinion piece in the Tallahassee Democrat by a social investigator in these cases sounds the alarm that judges shouldn’t start with an unproven presumption when the children’s unique needs should be of paramount importance.

Many supporters of this bill are fathers’ rights advocates, believing that mothers have always had the advantage of being the preferred parent in time-sharing issues and that this would help level the playing field.

If the law passes, parents can still negotiate terms in a parenting plan that differ from the presumed equal division of timeshares.

Alimony: Retroactivity, Permanence, and Retirement, OMG!
Overall, the bill reflects a shift in perspective away from long-term financial support for a recipient spouse who was a stay-at-home parent or was otherwise unable to work during the marriage. Instead, the law would largely expect alimony recipients to rehabilitate their professional or professional skills and support themselves.

The main disputed provisions on alimony:

Long-term maintenance would no longer be an option.
The paying parent would have rights upon retirement that could reduce or eliminate payment amounts altogether.
A judge could no longer consider adultery as a relevant factor in the alimony decision at the weigh-in.
The marital standard of living would be assumed to be lower for each new household after divorce.
Individuals who are already divorced may risk their alimony arrangement being taken to court again under the new law if an application to change alimony goes to court. Many attorneys strongly oppose this retrospective motion because individuals (and judges) might have made different decisions had they known of this future and potentially detrimental change.
The law provides some exceptions for permanently disabled dependents, those caring full-time for a child of the previous couple with severe and permanent disabilities, or those who would be impoverished without dependents.

Advocates of the changes point to extreme cases where ex-spouses have this obligation to pay into old age or in the event of disability, or are prevented from retiring.

The clock is ticking and we will keep readers informed.

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