The Florida Legislature passed an alimony reform bill this week which is now before the Governor.
This bill substantially changes the alimony laws, and provides a presumption that children should spend approximately equal amounts of time with both parents. If signed into law, the bill will be a substantial change. It requires courts to make certain initial findings regarding each party’s gross income, potential income, and income from property. It also requires the court to determine the length of the marriage.
Once these findings are made, a set of alimony guidelines will be used.
These guidelines provide a presumptive amount of alimony and a presumptive length of the award. Both are based on a formula which is outlined in the bill. There are presumptive high ends and low ends to calculate the amount of alimony (and length of the award). Permanent alimony was taken out. And long term awards will be given in marriages of twenty years or longer.
In any award, the court must make very detailed findings to support the award. And the court may deviate from the guidelines only if it makes specific written findings as to why it is not appropriate to follow the guidelines. The proposed law also provides detail on when an alimony award is tax deductible. And it states that a combined child support and alimony award shall not be more than 55 percent of a person’s net income.
In short, the alimony reform bill limits judicial discretion.
Until now, judges had a lot of discretion, and there was no set formula. Courts looked at the income of the parties, the length of the marriage, and the lifestyle during the marriage. Courts also considered contributions during the marriage. But the judge had a lot of discretion in deciding on an award. This bill takes away that discretion.
The bill also provides that courts must start with the premise that kids should spend equal time with both parents. Using this as a starting point, courts are directed to determine a parenting plan based on the best interests of the child.
I find these proposed changes to be a huge overall. And I generally like them. Having actual alimony guidelines will help people settle their cases. We can calculate with some certainty how much an alimony award should be, and the length of the award. Under the present statute, alimony awards are a guessing game. There are no guidelines. And the new bill will also help in most custody disputes. Parents are more likely to resolve differences if they know that they are both entitled to liberal time with their child. There will likely be some litigation over what constitutes “equal amounts of time.” But having a presumption of equal time will help, unless the case involves domestic violence or drug use.
The bill is now before Governor Rick Scott. If he signs it, it will all take effect on October 1, 2016.