Florida Families Lose with Passage of HB231/SB718

Lawmakers side against Florida's women, children and families.

Mar 22, 2013, 11:29 ET from Family Law Section of The Florida Bar

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., March 22, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- This week, women, children and families across the state were dealt a devastating blow from the policy makers who were elected to act in the best interest of Florida's citizens, but instead, chose to collapse to the pressure of a small, vocal group of disgruntled alimony payors.

At the center of this very personal battle is HB231/SB718, the Dissolution of Marriage legislation that attempts to make significant, far reaching and harmful changes to Florida's current alimony statutes. This legislation is an apparent attack on dependent spouses, the majority of whom are women, and its impact will throw many families into despair.

"This proposed legislation is anti-woman and anti-family. It denies one set of people with sufficient funds to meet the basic needs of life, while rewarding another group of people by allowing them to walk away from existing agreements," said Carin M. Porras, Esq., Chair of the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar. "It is perpetuated by proponents who are refusing to assume responsibility for their obligations. By allowing this radical legislation to move through committee hearings, our state's policy makers have clearly signaled that putting Florida families first is of little priority."

There are several provisions that pose grave concern. First, the proposed legislation eliminates permanent alimony, which under current law can only be awarded after making findings of fact that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable. Eliminating this option for judicial discretion will devastate the spouse who agreed to be the homemaker, gave up a career to care for children, moved to support a spouse's career ambitions, or for an ill or disabled spouse who is unable to work and will never be able to support themselves.

Second, the proposed legislation limits durational alimony to 50 percent of the length of the marriage and sets arbitrary guidelines to calculate alimony payments. This would prohibit judges from considering the actual financial needs of the parties, leaving no discretion to account for the vast differences in families and the overall income available for a family. Again, this denies alimony recipients with sufficient funds to meet basic needs of life, leaving them with little alternative but to apply to the state for Medicaid, food stamps and other forms of assistance. 

Further, this legislation allows former spouses who willfully entered into marital settlement agreements to return to court and modify the provisions of those agreements without showing any substantial change in circumstances. Former spouses who were ordered to pay alimony may also modify their orders. This provision alone will flood Florida's delicate and underfunded court system with repeats of old cases.

Equally alarming is a new provision that drags minor children into the already contentious negotiations of alimony proceedings. This language provides a presumption that an equal timesharing schedule is in the best interest of minor children and removes the court's discretion and ability to consider a child's individual needs such as age, developmental or psychological circumstances, or even proximity to a parent.

Any one of these provisions would have far reaching consequences, but the combined impact of this legislation will force some Floridians, particularly women who sacrificed their own educations and careers for their families, to face a future of poverty and government assistance. Moving this legislation any further sends a loud and clear message that Florida has no regard for the sanctity of a family unit or the decision of a parent to stay home and make their own sacrifices to nurture a family.

The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar opposes HB231 and SB718 and urges Florida's legislators to drown out the noise of the disgruntled minority and focus on the widespread devastation that will come if this legislation is passed.      

About the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar

The Family Law Section is a voluntary organization within The Florida Bar, composed of over 3,500 lawyers.  The views expressed by the section are not necessarily those of The Florida Bar, its officers, or the Bar's 90,000+ other members.  The Family Law Section provides section members and the public with information on attorneys practicing in the areas of divorce, child custody, adoption, modification of judgments and enforcement of alimony and child support. Family law deals with legal problems arising from family relationship of husband and wife and parent and child, including litigation of civil controversies arising from those relationships. In addition to actual pretrial and trial process, marital and family law includes evaluating, handling and resolving such controversies prior to the institution of suit and post-judgment proceedings. The Family Law Section's advocacy is wholly supported by the separate resources of this voluntary organization, and solely conducted in its own name.  The section's lobbying does not implicate the mandatory membership fees paid by any Florida Bar licensee.

SOURCE Family Law Section of The Florida Bar