Senate scraps upkeep overhaul efforts

by: Dara Kam

Florida Intelligence Service

Senate Republican leaders have stopped a consistently controversial effort to revise the state’s maintenance laws, saying they will make another attempt to revise it on Tuesday, April 20, during the next year’s legislature.

For nearly a decade, efforts to rewrite Florida’s maintenance laws have sparked emotional debates, including housewives and fathers who stay at home versus breadwinners who claim they are being forced to work past retirement in order to afford it will be able to make the necessary monthly payments to ex-spouse payments.

Former Governor Rick Scott, now a U.S. Senator, vetoed two amendments to the Maintenance Act before leaving Tallahassee in 2019. A debate on the subject led to a near-argument outside Scott’s office in 2016.

As in the past, supporters of this year’s effort – including the Florida Family Fairness group – opposed the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section and the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Both sides again hired some of the most powerful lobby firms in the state.

This year’s proposal was again aimed at abolishing permanent maintenance payments and significantly reducing the duration of maintenance payments.

Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, told the Senate committee Tuesday that the goal of the proposal is to make retirement easier for older maintenance payers and to make divorces friendlier for couples who split up.

“The general ethos of the bill is to reduce litigation, reduce family struggles, and keep Florida families not using their property and money to pay divorce lawyers to the last cent,” Gruters said before calling on the committee to to temporarily postpone the bill until next year.

Gruter tore the proposal out of consideration after the House had discussed a similar measure (HB 1559) and prepared it for a vote. The annual legislative period is due to end on April 30th.

House Democrats have questioned bill sponsor Anthony Rodriguez, R-Miami, about a controversial provision that would require judges to begin by “guessing” that children should split their time evenly between parents. Scott has largely retained his veto on a 2016 alimony bill related to a similar child sharing provision.

But Rodriguez said the 50-50 child division provision would simply codify into law where most judges currently start when making child division decisions.

“In most cases it is already practiced today,” said Rodriguez. “We want every child to have the appropriate amount of time (50-50) with each parent, provided that each parent is able and willing to care for that child. So we’re just trying to ratify the statute and say when you go to court there is a 50-50 standard starting point. “

Florida provides five types of child support under applicable law: “temporary,” which lasts during divorce proceedings; Bridge-the-Gap, which offers up to two years of payments for the transition from marriage to single; “Rehabilitation”, which supports an ex-spouse who is getting an education or schooling; “Permanent”, which allows ex-spouses to receive support for set periods of time; and “permanently”, which ends when one spouse dies or when the party receiving payments is remarried.

This year’s House proposal also included a provision that would allow judges to reduce or cancel a maintenance allowance, or order reimbursement to a maintenance payer if the court determines that there is a difference between the alimony ex-spouse and one Another person is in a “supportive relationship” or has existed “at any time during the 180 days” before an application for a change in maintenance is made. Under current law, maintenance payers are allowed to cancel payments if their exes remarry.

Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, said the provision aims to end ex-spouses’ “gambling art”.

“What we saw in Florida is an unfortunate event where receiving alimony acts as a deterrent to the legal move to legal marriage while people share households,” Andrade said during the question-and-answer session on Tuesday session. “This bill reduces this type of game art and takes away the incentive not to marry again.”

Senate Rules Chairperson Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican who is slated to serve as Senate president after the 2022 election, said lawmakers had received “hundreds of calls from people on both sides”.

“I know how difficult it is,” she said, encouraging Gruters to go back to work on the bill next year. “I think it’s smart to start early and get the stakeholders in the room and hopefully we can get consensus among all members.”

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