The so-called Maintenance Reform Act was put on the final committee with divorces, remarried individuals, and anyone else giving personal testimony on both sides of the bill on Tuesday.
The application (HB 843) from Rep. Alex Andrade would forego permanent maintenance and set the presumption of the division of custody time to 50-50. In the past the Pensacola Republicans compared permanent alimony payments to “forced labor” by requiring payers to work beyond retirement age.
Maintenance recipients argued that a cut in permanent maintenance would render retired divorces homeless, but Andrade denied their claims.
“There are 44 other states that have got rid of it in the past and you haven’t seen this mass movement towards dependence on the state,” he said.
Lawyer Philip WartenbergThe Florida Bar family law representative said the bill was unnecessary as the laws currently in place work well. The courts use discretion which he feared would alter the 50:50 presumption in order to make fair and equitable decisions.
“The idea that courts order alimony isn’t really true either,” he said. “It is a small number of cases that currently result in permanent alimony.”
But also Plantation Democratic Rep. Michael GottliebThe panel’s most vocal critic testified on Tuesday that the flaws in the maintenance system revealed the flaws, even if the anecdotes came from extreme cases.
“We are definitely hearing about certain inequalities in the system and the system clearly needs reform. I just don’t think this reform is,” he said. “I think it’s going too far, I feel like they’re throwing the baby away with the bath water and just not necessarily doing what they’re trying to do.”
And Budget Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Clay Yarborough dropped out of his party to vote against the bill as the panel passed Measure 7-4. He acknowledged the bill was in the works, but feared that some provisions, including the 50% length of the marriage cap for permanent maintenance, could have unintended consequences.
“I just felt uncomfortable writing my name on something we are not sure about the extent to which it could result in some parties potentially having to turn to the state and taxpayers for help “Yarborough told Florida Policy.
West Palm Beach Democratic Rep. David Silvers gave the bill his temporary approval. But if the legislation hits the bottom of the house without addressing concerns from some stakeholders, he would change his mind.
Currently, the long-term alimony can be changed at the discretion of a judge. And the language added to the bill last month prevents it from overriding the current maintenance agreements. This is apparently being lost to some witnesses who feared that their current alimony payments could be affected.
Blake Taylor, a retired court reporter who became a family court attorney, says a woman she is familiar with and who has early dementia fears her stability if Florida passes the law.
“As her dementia continues to get worse, she will run out of support,” said Taylor. “She won’t have anyone to stand up for her, and she says she’ll end up in a state care facility.”
A 1992 Florida Supreme Court judgment found that retirement is considered a change in circumstances that can alter livelihoods. But Andrade says the codification in state law would deter Floridians from bringing costly appeals to court.
The maintenance reform has been a hot topic in recent legislative sessions. In 2016, a reform law reached the government. Rick Scott, Who has entered a veto over concern would harm children.
Last month, HB 843 voted the House Civil Justice Subcommittee with a party line. The Senate Companion (SB 1832), sponsored by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, is not yet scheduled for a hearing of the committee.
Stargel previously told Florida Politics she expected her action in the Judiciary Committee of the Senate last week. But the Senate’s appetite for maintenance reform is now questionable, as committees have been scheduled for two weeks since then without taking up their bill.