Florida lawmakers are considering an alimony reform bill that's proved quite controversial. The measure would eliminate lifelong alimony payments and use a formula based on the length of the marriage and spousal income differential to set alimony amount and duration.
Alimony reform advocates have sought the change for years, saying recipients use permanent alimony to extort a lifetime meal ticket even when they could work. Opponents say that would make it impossible for mothers to leave careers to stay home with their children, for fear of being left destitute after a breakup.
Obviously forgoing paid work to raise children can leave women financially vulnerable. Perhaps those who fear financial ruin if they drop out of the workforce to raise kids shouldn't drop out of the workforce to raise kids. If they take that gamble, and the marriage ends in divorce, they may have to take a job that's less than optimal or otherwise live with the consequences of these choices. Like taking out too many student loans for a worthless degree or putting off having children until it's too late, it's a pitiable situation. But not one that should necessarily be corrected for with state force.
And let's be clear: Florida lawmakers are in no way trying to abolish alimony payments. Under the new formulation, alimony duration could be set at between 25 percent and 75 percent of the length of the marriage. "We want to be able to give judges discretion, but we don't want to give them so much discretion that there's no consistency from one sector to another, because right now there's no predictability or consistency," said Alan Frisher, co-founder of The Family Law Reform group.
Perhaps with lifelong alimony off the table, we'd see a greater role for voluntary prenuptial agreements. Perhaps we'd see increased women's workforce participation. Perhaps we'd see public assistance rolls go up. Regardless of outcome, prohibiting a more objective, proportionate alimony formula seems hard to justify.
H.B. 943 would also let people lower or end payments upon retirement, create a rebuttable presumption that no alimony be awarded for marriages of two years or less, prevent combined alimony and child support requirements from constituting more than 55 percent of the paying spouse's income, and establish that an increase in the payer's income "does not constitute a basis for a modification to increase alimony unless at the time the alimony award was established it was determined that the obligor was underemployed or unemployed." And it changes terms like "husband" and "wife" to the gender-neutral "spouse," presumably to accommodate Florida's now-legal same-sex marriages.
The bill has been panned as "anti-woman, anti-marriage, and anti-traditional family," but that's from members of the First Wives Advocacy Group, so take that for what you will.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed alimony reform legislation in 2013, but that bill had language allowing for the reopening of old divorce cases, which the new legislation omits. A similar version of H.B. 943 has been introduced in the Florida Senate.