Debbie Leff Israel, the Weston woman who helped start the Florida Second Wives Club, wont marry her fiancée because her salary can be used to recalculate what he pays to support his ex-wife.
Alan Frisher, a Brevard County financial advisor, was ordered to pay his former wife permanent alimony in 2003 when the couple divorced, a ruling he considers abusive and unjust.
The two are unlikely allies in a fight for alimony reform in Florida, a movement that began quietly about a decade ago but is now gaining ground around the country and earning the attention of legislators and family law attorneys.
Our premise is to educate legislators so they get a complete view of whats going on, not just one side, says Frisher, co-director and spokesman for Tavares-based Florida Alimony Reform. The laws on the books were constructed from the early 50s and a lot has changed since then. Women are working, they have equal rights and the economics [of marriage] are quite different.
While the grassroots movement is comprised mostly of men, more and more women, primarily second wives, are joining in for the same reasons Israel did. Under current law, Israels salary as a math professor at Broward Community College can qualify as a factor in the alimony wars if she marries fiancée John Kelapire and his former wife requests more money. Thats because when the paying ex-spouse has fewer expenses the result of sharing expenses in a re-marriage a judge can order an increase in alimony.
Thats just not fair, Israel says of the law. It doesnt encourage people to be self-sufficient and it ties you to the ex for life.
Israel says she couldve been awarded permanent alimony when she divorced but chose to receive it only for a set time. It was in my own best interest, she says, adding that skipping permanent alimony prompted her to become self-sufficient more quickly.
In the overwhelming majority of divorces, some form of alimony is awarded to the lesser-earning spouse, usually the wife. But as women earn more and become the breadwinners, they, too, are on the paying end, and those numbers are likely to grow. Though no figures are kept, experts say most alimony orders are for a limited period of time to give the ex-spouse time to become self-supporting. Permanent alimony cases are in the minority; the concept was created to protect women who had stayed home for decades to raise a family and had few, if any, marketable skills.
Before changes in 2010 and 2011, there were several types of alimony, either through statute or court rulings. These included temporary alimony (from date of filing through final judgment), permanent alimony (indefinite), rehabilitative alimony (designed to help the ex become self-supporting) and lump sum alimony. Case law had also established bridge the gap alimony (short term payments for a specific purpose) and nominal alimony (a minimal amount that can be increased if circumstances change).
Florida Alimony Reform wants to do away with permanent alimony entirely, replacing it with a concept the organization calls long-term durational alimony, which would end when the payer reaches retirement age.
Frisher cites various FAR members who have been forced to continue paying ex-spouses even in retirement, when their take-home pay drops and alimony eats up a larger percentage of their income. Modifications are allowed, but its expensive to go to court, he adds. And you get very different results depending on the judge. Given the same set of circumstances, you may get a totally different ruling in Brevard than in Broward. We want to make sure the law is consistent and predictable.