In our previous post, we discussed a bill currently making its way through the Florida House of Representatives that would reform the way judges determine alimony in divorce cases. Specifically, the bill would limit family law judges' discretion in two ways: it would limit the amount of alimony to prevent the payer's income from becoming significantly lower than that of the payee's, and would require the judge to show that permanent alimony is the only appropriate form available before awarding it.
Our last post discussed the bill's cap on amount. This post will deal with the proposed curbing of permanent alimony.
State law changed last year to require judges to presume an award of permanent alimony to one spouse in cases where the marriage lasted more than 17 years. Before that change, the length of marriage that triggered a presumption of permanent alimony varied from county to county. The shorter the marriage lasted, the more likely the judge will award durational alimony instead, which lasts a set time not to exceed the length of the marriage itself.
Under current law, judges are not able to order durational alimony after a long-term marriage. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, would change that to make durational alimony an option. It would also require judges to show that permanent alimony is the only appropriate order in the case before awarding it. Rep. Stargel and the bill's supporters believe making permanent alimony less common will prevent excessive payments.
As with the proposed alimony cap, a number of legal experts question the permanent alimony limit. A family law professor at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, believes that reducing the duration of alimony after a long-term marriage ends could be harmful to the couple's children. It can take time for an ex-spouse to become self-sufficient after spending years out of the workforce, the professor said, and not having alimony coming in will force the parent to stretch child support further.
The change could also make divorce more difficult. Currently, if a couple begins divorce proceedings after 17 years of marriage, the parties know that permanent alimony is nearly automatic. The bill would remove that presumption, giving the parties one more thing to fight over in court, said the chair of the Hillsborough County Bar Association's family law section.
Source: Tampa Bay Online, "Florida lawmakers consider easing alimony requirements," Elaine Silvestrini, April 4, 2011