Divorce-Law Reforms Pass Florida Legislature, But Women's and Lawyer's Groups Urge Governor to Veto

The measure would end permanent alimony and establish a presumption of equal rights in child custody disputes.


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Florida lawmakers are attempting to reform the state's divorce laws, but they face opposition from the state bar association and women's advocacy groups. A bill that recently cleared the state legislature and is headed to Republican Gov. Rick Scott would enact a slew of alimony and child-custody law reforms, including ending permanent alimony, providing judges with a new formula to use in determining alimony payments agreements if a receiving partner starts making more money or gets a new "supportive" spouse, and declaring that all child-custody decisions should start with a presumption of equal custody.

The measure, Senate Bill (SB) 668, is similar to alimony-law reforms vetoed by Scott in 2014. But the wording of that bill could have allowed the retroactive altering of existing alimony settlements; the new proposal has corrected this. It's a child custody section of the measure that is now causing trouble. The Florida Bar Association's Family Law Section opposes the establishment of any baseline legal presumption in custody cases. It's "urging the governor to veto Senate Bill 668 because on several levels it's problematic," Maria Gonzalez, chair of the Family Law Section, told the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

"It does not serve the best interest of the children, any presumption," she said. 

[…] Gonzalez said the lawyers object to another provision that requires a judge to file written findings on the child-sharing plan. She said such findings could result in public court records on the intimate details of family life.

"All kinds of very specific, detailed findings will now unfortunately have to be included in a final judgment," Gonzalez said. "And that is detrimental to families. It's not in the best interest of children to have a final judgment air all of the family dynamics in written findings."

Advocates of the reforms say family lawyers' worries are unfounded. Despite the presumption of equal custody, judges will still have discretion to deviate from this based on array of individual circumstances.  

"Behind-the-scenes lobbying is expected to be heavy on Scott's final decision," the Herald Tribune reports

The Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) has also been opposing the divorce-law reforms, calling them "anti-family" and "bad for Florida women." In a Facebook post urging people to get in touch with the governor's office to oppose SB 668, Florida NOW called the custody-sharing part of the reform package an "egregious injustice."