Lawmakers approve invoice to remove everlasting little one help – The Florida Bar

The legislature approves the bill to abolish long-term maintenance

Sen. Joe Gruters

Lawmakers have agreed to eliminate permanent child support payments, give ex-spouses who pay child support a “path to retirement” and create a legal presumption that an equal division of time is in a child’s best interest.

The House of Representatives voted 74-42 on March 9 to approve Senator Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, SB 1796. Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Ft. Myers, sponsored the House Companion, HB 1935.

“This bill is the fairest and most equitable alimony reform bill that has been brought before this legislature,” Persons-Mulicka said. “It balances the goal of protecting those most in need of upkeep with the goal of reducing the need for exhaustive and costly litigation.”

Critics, including the family law department, warn the measure will upset existing agreements, spark bitter custody battles and put children at risk.

“Our major concern is that this bill will upend the well-founded expectations of people receiving child support under an existing contract,” said section chairman-elect Philip S. Wartenberg, a 13th Circuit Law Department magistrate assigned to the family.

By eliminating permanent alimony, the bill emphasizes bridge maintenance, rehabilitating and permanent alimony.

It would limit rehabilitation alimony to five years and bar the granting of alimony to marriages shorter than three years.

Long-term alimony would be granted for half the length of marriages lasting between three and ten years, 60% of the length of marriages between 10 and 20 years, and 75% of marriages lasting 20 years or more.

Permanent alimony payments would be capped at the recipient’s “reasonable needs” or 34% of the difference in income, whichever is less.

The measure would create a “wind-up” period that would allow a departing ex-spouse, in certain circumstances, to reduce alimony payments by 25% per year over a four-year period after giving formal notice of termination.

Safeguards would protect disabled recipients or recipients who are the full-time carer of a disabled child common to both parties.

Persons-Mulicka stressed that a recipient’s income must not fall below 130% of the federal poverty line — about $17,500 a year — or the recipient is unable to afford “the basic necessities of life.”

The measure would create a rebuttable presumption that equal sharing of time is in the best interests of children. Under the measure, a permanent move within 50 miles of a child’s place of residence would be considered a material change of circumstances.

After negotiations with the reformers in the summer, the family law department is ready to support the abolition of alimony, said Wartenberg.

“It was a major change from the past,” he said.

But the Senate bill, which did not include a provision on equal time-sharing, was amended to align with the House version.

“In terms of the pension aspects, we just can’t support where the bill ended up,” said Wartenberg. “It really was their language, we think it’s poorly written and again it creates serious problems in terms of how a debtor can request that change.”

Persons-Mulicka said the measure would not affect “unmodifiable” agreements and “unmodifiable parts of agreements” and has been reviewed by several lawyers.

“This is not retroactive and not unconstitutional,” she said.

The equal time-sharing provision stalled a similar bill in the Senate’s last session, and is the biggest concern in the House of Representatives.

Emily Slosberg-King, D-Delray Beach, and a family law attorney, said the equal-time division provision would create too great a procedural hurdle for pro se plaintiffs to overcome.

“A 50:50 part-time ratio shouldn’t be considered in every case,” she said. “If there’s an addicted parent and a non-addicted parent, they shouldn’t share time equally.”

But Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, and a lawyer said reforms were needed to provide more security and discourage divorcing couples from going to court.

“Courts of appeal are desperate for the legislature to step up and do something,” he said. “They’re tired of seeing desperate couples burn their fortunes over petty disputes.”

Andrade said the measure would benefit children by making it easier for a non-custodial parent to spend more time with a child.

Andrade noted that House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Clearwater, has emphasized empowering fatherhood.

“We have now spent two sessions reiterating how important a father is to a child’s life,” Andrade said. “Studies prove that a father’s time is crucial in this child’s life.”

In 2016, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a support reform measure that included an equal timeshare provision. In his veto message, Scott wrote that the provision “would place the wishes of a parent ahead of the best interests of a child.”

Scott also vetoed a 2012 alimony reform measure, citing concerns about retroactivity and its potential impact on recipients.

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