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2016 Florida Alimony Reform Bill Vetoed

The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that Florida Governor Rick Scott has vetoed SB 668, a bill that was intended to make large-scale changes to the state’s alimony and child custody laws.

Rick Scott (cropped).jpg

For the first time, the bill was set to create alimony guidelines that calculated a presumptive range for the amount and length of spousal support.  Further, the bill would have directed judges, when establishing custody schedules, to start out with the premise that each parent should have approximately an equal amount of time with children.

It was that second point that seemed to be the sticking point for Governor Scott.

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2015 Florida Alimony Reform – Proposed Factors for Alimony

In a previous post, I wrote about Florida House Bill 943 and the proposed alimony guidelines contained in the bill.  Florida currently has no guidelines for alimony, and the bill creates formulas which would implement presumptive ranges for the amount and duration of alimony that a judge could order, making awards more predictable.

As an update to my prior post, HB 943 has been amended.  As of the date I am writing this, the years of marriage is multiplied by 1.5%, rather than 1.25%, in the formula to determine the low amount of alimony that a judge could order.  There are likely to be more changes to the bill before the it passes both houses of the Florida legislature and is signed into law (if, indeed, it makes it that far).

So, if the alimony guidelines become official, where in the range of amount and duration of alimony will any particular award fall?  The bill sets out certain factors to help a judge make this decision:

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Modifying Florida Alimony

Now that Senate Bill 718 on alimony reform has been vetoed by Florida Governor Rick Scott, many Tampa Bay residents are wondering whether there is any way to modify or terminate their alimony obligations.  The answer, in many cases, may be yes.

Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes states that most types of alimony may be modified or terminated when there has been a substantial change in circumstances that affects the receiving spouse’s need for alimony or the paying spouse’s ability to pay. Case law tells us that a “substantial change in circumstances” means a change that was unanticipated at the time the alimony was ordered by the Court, and a change that is permanent, involuntary, and material. Examples of substantial changes in circumstance that may justify upward or downward modification include health issues, long-term unemployment, a big raise, or a large inheritance.

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Governor Vetoes 2013 Florida Alimony and Child Custody Reform Bill

In an unexpected turn of events, Florida Governor Rick Scott has vetoed Senate Bill 718, which envisioned broad-ranging changes to Florida alimony and child custody laws.  If signed, the bill would have created a presumption in favor of 50/50 child custody, eliminated permanent alimony, and permitted (in certain circumstances) those who had already been ordered to pay alimony to seek a modification based on the new law.

Governor Scott’s veto letter reads, in part:

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Florida Alimony Reform: How Long is a “Long-Term” Marriage?

As Senate Bill 718 – which deals with Florida alimony and child custody reform – looks likely to be signed by Governor Rick Scott, this blog is exploring the various parts of the bill and discussing how they may affect Tampa Bay divorce and family law cases.

One area that this bill changes is the way that marriages are categorized as short-term, moderate-term, and long-term.  The reason this matters is because the Florida Statutes prescribes the type, quantity, and duration of alimony that a judge is likely to award depending on the length of the marriage.

See Related: Child Custody Reform * Supportive Relationships

Right now (before the changes of Senate Bill 718), the law defines the length of marriage and the presumed appropriate types of alimony (after a judge has determined that one spouse has a need for alimony and the other spouse has the ability to pay) as follows:

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Florida Alimony Reform: Supportive Relationships

As Senate Bill 718 dealing with alimony reform and child custody reform has passed both houses of the Florida Legislature and seems likely to be signed by Governor Rick Scott, this blog will attempt to explain how various aspects of the bill may impact Florida and Tampa Bay family law cases.

If signed, most changes (including changes to Florida’s supportive relationship laws) will go into effect July 1, 2013.

Currently, Florida law permits a person who has been ordered to pay alimony (called an “obligor”) to seek a modification or termination of his or her alimony order if he or she can prove that the spouse receiving alimony (called the “obligee”) is in a supportive relationship.  As the law stands now, even if the obligor can prove that the obligee is in a supportive relationship, a judge has the option, but is not required, to modify an alimony order.

The language of Senate Bill 718 changes the supportive relationship statute as follows (new language is underlined while deleted language is stricken):

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Florida Child Custody Reform 2013

There has been a lot of press lately about efforts to reform Florida’s alimony laws.  As discussed on this blog, Senate Bill 718 (which primarily deals with alimony reform) passed the Florida House by a wide margin (85 Yeas versus 31 Nays) and, since it had also passed the Florida Senate, will be going to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.

Update: Governor Scott Vetoes Senate Bill 718

One area that may be even more significant, but has not received as much coverage, is language in Senate Bill 718 that reforms Florida’s child custody laws.  Currently, there is no presumption in favor of or against any child custody schedule, including a 50/50 split custody (known as equal time-sharing).  Senate Bill 718, however, adds language to section 61.13 of the Florida Statutes that seems to make a strong presumption in favor of equal time-sharing.

The text of the child custody provisions of Senate Bill 718 is reproduced below (deleted language is stricken while new language is underlined):

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