Earlier this year, FAR pushed for a bill that wouldve given former spouses a better chance at trimming or ending their permanent payments. It passed the Florida House but never reached a vote in the Senate.
The current alimony statute has already been rewritten several times. About seven years ago, the law was amended to permit courts to reduce or terminate alimony if a woman was cohabitating in a marital-type relationship. (Alimony can be terminated if the recipient remarries.) In 2010 and 2011, more changes ensued, including a revised definition that sorted marriages into categories of short term (up to six years), moderate (seven to 16 years), and long term (17 years and up.) It also stopped the clock of the marriage at the date of filing, not when the divorce was final, an important distinction because the 2010 law also established durational alimony, which capped the alimony at the length of the marriage for short-term and moderate-term marriages. It did not do that for long-term marriages. Stopping the clock on the marriage is important because by making the marriage-end date fall on the filing date, it shortens the length of the marriage as well as the length of potential alimony payments.
However, in 2011, changes allowed durational alimony to be used in long-term marriages as well, designating permanent alimony as the alimony of last resort.
Florida is not alone in amending alimony statutes. In 2011, Massachusetts overhauled its alimony laws. It wrote formulas for alimony depending on the length of the marriage but it also left it up to the courts discretion to order alimony for an indefinite length of time in marriages longer than 20 years. There have been similar efforts in other states, including New Jersey and Tennessee.
Kira Willig, who practices and teaches family law as an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami, says the changes reflect an evolving society. The focus now is not on the standard of living during the marriage but what the needs and necessities are [of the alimony recipient], she says. The conversation is about how can we get this person self-sufficient, how much can she realistically earn.
FARs Frisher, however, says changes dont go far enough. Whats more, most permanent alimony payers are still on the hook for life because the 2010 and 2011 changes to alimony law dont apply retroactively.
To gear up for next years legislative session, FAR has mounted a full-court press, hosting a series of town hall meetings around Florida, including one in Weston, that will culminate with a statewide town hall in Tampa Saturday. Its also been lobbying sympathetic legislators.
But some family law attorneys say the alimony statutes have already been amended to reflect the times and that there are provisions in existing law to accommodate income changes triggered by everything from job loss to retirement. Most attorneys, including Willig of FAR, also agree with FAR that Florida should establish a formula for alimony as many other states have already done. (Florida has a formula for child support and equitable distribution of assets but not alimony.)
This guarantees uniformity in rulings across the state, she says. However, you dont want the statute to take away too much of the judges discretion.
She also concedes that its expensive to amend an alimony settlement in court or to prove an ex-spouse is cohabitating in a supportive relationship while receiving alimony. But she worries that the changes proposed by FAR are an attempt to slowly chip away at the practice of alimony. I think this is the beginning, not the end, of proposed alimony reform.
Frisher disputes that. We are not against alimony, he says. We are against the permanency of it and sometimes the unjustified amount paid.