FORT MYERS, Fla. – Not all marriages end with “happy to the end” and for many people the disaster is not over when the divorce is final.
Now, Tallahassee’s new legislation calls for major changes to the state’s Maintenance Act.
“I think it’s very aggressive,” said attorney Mike Chionopoulos of the Senate bill. “In my opinion, this would be a profound change in the area of family law.”
Chionopoulos is familiar with the maintenance debate. He has customers on both sides of the problem.
“This bill eliminates permanent maintenance. It does not exist anymore. It picks it up, ”he explained. “And then the other types of maintenance are limited to half the time of the marriage.”
This is not the first time Florida lawmakers have pushed for maintenance reform. Previous bills made it to then Governor Rick Scott’s desk twice, but he vetoed the legislation on both occasions.
Barbara DeVane of the National Organization for Women has been fighting the proposed changes for a decade.
“I work with these women. They are almost destitute, many of them. And maintenance is owed to them, ”DeVane told NBC2.
Under current law, maintenance does not end until a spouse remarries or a court approves. That would change with the new legislation.
Some lawmakers driving reform say that dependents, who are mostly women, can “cheat” the system to their advantage.
DeVane said women would suffer if the legislation was passed.
“They make them sound like they’re getting $ 5, 10 thousand a month. They sit at home and watch TV and eat candy. That’s just not true, ”she explained.
The proposed changes would also create the presumption that every parent should have 50 percent equal time with their children.
“This is a topic that many have been looking for for a very long time,” said Chionopoulos. “That also benefits the father.”
“The male perception is, ‘We have been abused for so long because we had to pay for all these things, had to do these things that are unfair, it’s a gender tax,” he said. “Obviously, many of the women feel they need this help and they deserve it.”
Chionopoulos suspects that the legislation would have to be weakened in order to have a better chance of being passed.
The Senate version of the legislation will be presented to a committee next week.