It is often said that marriage is about love and divorce is about money. This reductionist view fails to recognize that divorce is a significant life-changing event that leaves the individuals both emotionally and financially exposed and vulnerable. While married, couples usually share earned income, resources, purchases, investments, and career decisions. Marriage is far more than an economic institution and spouses are more than just economic partners. They are life partners who build their lives together, dream together. Unfortunately, 40-50% of all first marriages, and 60% of all second marriages end in divorce, leaving these once-upon-a-time life partners in a devastating battle to rebuild their lives.
Rebuilding requires money. Alimony mitigates the significance of the life changes thrust upon divorcing spouses by providing financial assistance to the spouse who was financially supported during the marriage. Alimony laws have evolved with society and a new battle over current alimony laws is being waged. The contentious and emotional battle over alimony reform recently made its way to Florida, with support to eliminate the “draconian” practice of awarding permanent alimony. However, the reality of the current alimony statute and the affect that any reform will have on Florida families has been lost amongst the extreme arguments made on both ends of the alimony spectrum.
On April 4, 2013, Bill No. 718 (the “Alimony Reform Bill”) passed in the Florida Senate with seemingly little resistance or media attention. The Alimony Reform Bill proposed drastic changes to Florida’s current alimony statute. It redefined terms; revised factors for consideration when determining alimony awards; eliminated the standard of living as a factor; and eliminated the provision for permanent alimony, altogether. It placed the burden on the party seeking alimony to prove need and the other party’s ability to pay, making it more difficult to receive an award for alimony, and provided a strict formula for calculating alimony. Although alimony and child support are calculated separately, this bill established a presumption for 50/50 timesharing of children. It also eliminated the ability to modify alimony, if originally awarded with child support, after the child support ends. Further, it made these changes retroactive to alimony awards entered before July 1, 2013.
The Alimony Reform Bill took a machete to Florida’s current alimony statute. Governor Rick Scott vetoed it on May 1, 2013. However, alimony reform in Florida is an inevitable issue for future legislation. Although alimony reform is necessary, a one-size-fits-all reform undermines the concepts of equity and justice. It does not allow both spouses to comfortably transition from marriage to single life, but instead forces all married couples to conform and structure their lives in accordance with the experiences and opinions of some divorcees.
The concerns of paying spouses and receiving spouses need to be given equal consideration. Consideration must also be given to how reform will affect children of divorced parents and to the way Florida couples decided to structure their relationships and families. An objective blue-ribbon committee composed of unbiased, economic specialists with the education and experience to fully understand the impact reform will have should be created to establish detailed guidelines for determining alimony awards. Clearer guidelines will significantly remove the potential for abuse by creating uniform standards by which alimony awards are determined and calculated without putting a one-size-fits-all tab on divorces. The sanctity of marriage and family should be honored by still allowing courts to consider the unique characteristics of each marriage.
Kristina M. Bado