Proposed alimony reform laws could limit Florida spousal support

When a couple divorces, the higher-earning partner often has to make payments to the lower-earning partner. These payments — known as "alimony" or "spousal support" — help maintain the standard of living established in the marriage. Sometimes, spousal support is only temporary, providing the lower-earning party with the resources necessary to acquire education or job training and become self sufficient. But, under Florida law, there is no requirement that alimony be paid for such a specific purpose, and there is no set limit on the length of time a judge may require a higher-earning party to make alimony payments.

According to some advocates, it's time for a change in how Florida handles spousal support awards. If passed, two bills working through the Florida legislature — House bill 231 and Senate bill 718 — would usher into law reforms to make alimony more predictable.

End to lifetime alimony, formula for awards are two aims of bills

One of the most notable proposals outlined in the bills is an end to permanent alimony. Sometimes, even in relatively short marriages, Florida judges award spousal support indefinitely; lifetime alimony only ends if the partner receiving it gets remarried. Supporters of the alimony reform measures say that lifetime alimony discourages remarriage.

On a related note, the bills would also establish the right for alimony payers to retire at the federal retirement age without making continuing spousal support payments. As the law stands, some alimony payers must remain in the workforce rather than retiring in order to keep up with their spousal support obligations.

It's not only the duration of spousal support that is under fire in the Florida bills; it is also the way alimony amounts are calculated. For one thing, the proposed laws would block "second" spouses' income as a consideration for alimony, meaning that if the alimony payer remarries into a better financial situation, the alimony recipient would no longer be able to demand increased spousal support payments.

In addition, the bills seek to establish a formula for the calculation of spousal support based on the average of both spouses' incomes. This would limit judges' discretion in setting spousal support amounts, making alimony awards more like child support - a fixed amount for a fixed time.

Talk to a lawyer about how alimony reform bills could change divorce strategy

It remains to be seen if the bills will pass. But, they are garnering broad support. On March 12, SB 718 passed 8 to 1 in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and HB 231 is expected to be received favorable in the Florida House.

If passed, Florida's alimony reform bills will mean big changes for spousal support. The bills will be retroactive, so many alimony payers will wish to go back into court and renegotiate spousal support terms. For couples going through a divorce after the bills take effect, it could shift the focus in divorce settlement negotiations. For example, a partner who knows he or she will likely receive a lower spousal support award under the new laws may take this into account by pushing for a greater share in a property division settlement.

If you have question about spousal support, an experienced family law attorney can tell you more and craft a strategy to pursue the outcome you desire.