Revised Child Support Bill Gets Green Light from Senate Committee – The Florida Bar

Revised Child Support Act gets green light from Senate committee

Sen. Joe Gruters

A measure that would allow the courts to award alimony to either party in the form of “temporary, bridging, rehabilitative or permanent alimony according to equity” while removing the term “inherently permanent” from the statutes was passed by the Committee on Senate Tax Policy on March 23.

SB1416 marks the third time that Sarasota Republican Senator Joe Gruters has introduced some form of support reform to the Senate.

“It’s back again,” Gruters said. “Divorce is devastating, but the process is usually more devastating for the families that experience it.”

Gruters said the current version of the alimony law is the result of extensive negotiations between stakeholders, including the Bar Association’s family law division, that have taken place over the past year and a half.

Gruters said the proposed reforms provide divorced families across the state with more predictability and consistency in the outcomes of their situation by creating a clear, final parameter where the court has discretion to make decisions about the amount and duration of child support payments meet.

“Providing these parameters about the type, length and amount of child support payments can encourage settlement negotiations that result in less lengthy and costly litigation,” Gruters said.

The 2023 edition of the alimony reform package eliminates permanent alimony and replaces it with permanent alimony granted for a set period of time based on the length of the marriage. The provisions in the draft law come from the laws already on the books.

“The process and factors in the bill are not new law and therefore would not adversely affect existing child support payments,” Gruters said.

Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, offered an amendment to provide that the new legislation would not apply to agreements made prior to July 1, 2023 and that this bill would not be retroactive.

The change, opposed by the Family Law Department, was rejected because, as Gruters put it, both sides had already agreed on the language.

“Just to be clear, if one party is unamendable alimony, there’s nothing in this bill that changes that. Both sides have approved every single part of this bill, so this is an unfriendly change,” Gruters said.

Berman had other concerns, including prenuptial agreements, marital wealth depletion and pension revisions. Gruters explained that the bill codifies existing case law.

Andrea Reid, representative of the Family Law Section, spoke out in favor of the measure.

“We’ve been coming up here and fighting this law for 10 years,” Reid said. “This is another bill that was backed not only by the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section, but also by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.”

Reid also said the current iteration of the bill is not unconstitutionally retroactive.

“I think there is some confusion about the retrospective application of this bill because there are provisions in this bill that will apply to currently existing cases and to currently existing agreements,” Reid said.

Berman was still curious about the number of divorce settlements that cannot be changed.

“Most agreements are modifiable, but the people who have negotiated non-modifiable agreements are quite a few, and we see them happening with perpetual maintenance,” Reed said. “Very few entire agreements are unchangeable.”

While Berman voted against the measure, she says this year’s bill is miles ahead of previous versions.

“That’s a much better bill than we’ve ever seen,” Berman said. “I’m really torn. I might come to yes, but today I’m going to dig into it. I want to talk to more people and feel more comfortable. Thank you for all the changes you have made and for the work you all have done.”

The measure now goes to its final Senate station in the Rules of Procedure Committee.

Gruters said he was grateful to everyone who came together to draft the bill.

“Both sides are ready to put it behind us and we are ready to create some certainty in this uncertain aspect of the law.”

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