Florida, 2016: The Florida Bar, Family Law Section, has rescinded its support of an alimony bill after an amendment was added to the bill that would mandate 50/50 custody.
On March 2, The Florida Bar Family Law Section posted on their facebook page the following message:
“Dear Family Law Section members,
Yesterday, late amendments were made to pending legislation relating to a “50/50” timesharing bill which passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Family Law Section continues to oppose SB 668 because it contains a presumption that a 50/50 timesharing schedule is in the best interests of every child. The bill also requires detailed findings of fact in every case absent an agreement of the parents and violates the Section’s standing positions and public policy. I have attached a copy of the bill for your reference – please read it. Despite the Section’s efforts to work with sponsors of this bill and provide compromise language, we believe the current proposed language (or similar presumptive language) may nevertheless be approved by the House and thereafter proceed to the Governor in short order.
We urge you to contact Governor Scott and voice your opposition to the timesharing portion of SB 668 now.
Governor Scott’s contact information is as follows:
Maria C. Gonzalez
Chair, Family Law Section, 2015-16″
What are the implications for other states, like Minnesota, that are also considering changes to their alimony laws?
Alimony reform is again on the desk of Florida governor, Rick Scott. The proposed changes to current alimony laws in SB 668 would end permanent alimony and create new calculation guidelines for judges to determine alimony based on the duration of the marriage and the incomes of both parties. If a judge were to deviate from guidelines, they would have to explain why in writing. The bill also states that the combined costs of alimony and child support cannot exceed more than a certain percentage of a person’s income.
Read the proposed bill at: Florida Alimony Reform 2016 – Bill Text SB 668
Controversy has followed the proposed changes, with individuals and family law professionals making compelling arguments for and against the proposed bill.
The debate intensified when the Appropriations Committee passed an amendment, proposed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, to the alimony bill to include a presumption that 50/50 custody is in the best interest of the child. 50/50 custody means that there is an automatic assumption by the family courts that both parents are equally fit to care for children, and all costs (for the care of the children) are split based on how many nights the children stay with each parent. If one parent were to refuse to take physical custody of a child during their allotted time, the other parent would assume full responsibility, and all costs associated with caring for the child. If a parent wanted to change the custody arrangement they would have to return to family court, and establish that there is a compelling reason.
This also means that the courts must consider a 50/50 custody parenting plan first, as “a starting point”, and the actual best interests of a child would second in determining custody and/or parenting time. Critics argue that the interests of the parents should not come before what is best, and appropriate, for the child – and that courts should examine custody and parenting time determinations on an individual, case by case, basis and by adhering to established legal guidelines and state laws.
50/50 custody extends only to physical custody, aspects of legal custody do not have to be shared equally. The judge has flexibility to determine the responsibility of one or both parents to make decisions regarding common aspects of legal custody such as making medical decisions, choosing a school, or choosing a daycare (etc).
The Florida Bar, which helped write the alimony bill, and lobbied hard for its passage, has now taken back its support and is urging Gov. Scott to veto the bill because 50/50 custody has been tacked onto it.
Tom Sasser, an attorney from West Palm Beach and the former chairman of the Family Law section of the Florida Bar Association, who’s serving as the bar’s alimony spokesman this year, says, “It’s very frustrating, because the section worked very hard on the alimony piece, and really does want it to pass. But it also feels very strongly about children. The No. #1 rule in the family court system is children come first. So [the Family Law section of the bar] is willing to fight its own alimony legislation to protect the best interests of children.”
This is Florida’s second attempt at alimony reform, the first effort initiated 3 years ago, resulted in a veto. If the current bills are approved by Gov. Scott, they would become effective Oct. 1, 2016.
Other states, such as Minnesota, are also considering alimony reform.
For those working for alimony reform, or other changes to family law – there is a lesson to be learned from what is happening in Florida: Put children first. The decisions of family courts, and the laws they are guided by, affect the outcomes of children for the rest of their lives. Any changes to the courts or to the statutes should be approached with care. Issues such as alimony, parenting time, and what is the “best interest” of children are important, and deserve public discussion, and when needed, change to the existing laws. But at what cost? The proposal for alimony changes should focus on just that – other ideas for family law changes, such as implementing 50/50 custody – belong in separate bills. Adding changes or amendments that could substantially change the nature of proposed bill, and may result in veto benefit no one. One could even argue that such tactics equal coercion.
For More Info:
Florida – CS/CS/SB 668: Family Law
Florida Alimony Reform – 2016 (Ayo & Iken)
Florida Bar Association’s Family Law Section says it no longer supports alimony-reform bill it helped write
Florida Legislature sends controversial alimony and child-support law to governor for approval