Florida Eliminates Permanent Alimony

Florida has passed the Florida Family Fairness Act, which significantly modifies its spousal support laws. The new law, signed by Governor DeSantis, removes the option of permanent alimony from the Sunshine state. Instead, it sets a five-year limit on spousal support and people married for less than three years will not be eligible for alimony payments at all. People married for 20 years or more will be eligible for up to 75 percent of the term of the marriage.  

The Act also codifies into law a prior case that sets forth a number of different factors that state family judges can use to reduce or terminate alimony. Judges can reduce or terminate alimony, support payments after considering a number of factors, such as: 

the age and health of the person who makes payments; 
the customary retirement age of that person’s occupation;  

the economic impact a reduction in alimony would have on the recipient of the payments,  
motivation for retirement  
likelihood of returning to work for the person making the payments,  
other potential factors.  

Spouses seeking alimony will have the burden of proving that they need it and the other spouse has the ability to pay.  

The First Wives Advocacy Group has asserted that the new law will harm older women and an attack on family values. The Act’s sponsors claim that the law is not retroactive and will not change existing spousal support orders.  

Is Permanent Spousal Support Still Necessary?

Permanent spousal support has often been controversial as it means that one spouse, typically the husband, will be forced to pay his ex-wife for a lifetime. In the most extreme cases, the husband’s estate could be obligated to pay his ex-wife even though the husband had since married another woman and had children with this new wife, decades ago.  

Permanent spousal support is often justified when the marriage is a long-term marriage and one spouse was a homemaker for the duration of the marriage. In the 20th century, the wife would often stay at home while the husband worked. The wife would take care of domestic responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning and take care of the children while the husband worked outside the home to provide for the family. Since the wife was at home all the time, she has no background to obtain employment if the marriage dissolves. However, the wife still provided value to the household even if that value is not measured in the job market. Spousal support was devised to equalize the post-divorce standing of both spouses if one spouse was financially dependent on the other during the marriage.   

Permanent spousal support has lost some of its rationale in the 21st century. Both spouses are often working outside the home in contemporary America, and as such both spouses have become closer to equal partnership rather than one spouse being financially dependent on the other.  

Indeed, the sexism that existed with the husband as the breadwinner and the wife as the domestic homemaker is either gone or reversed. There are now many households where women are making more than their husbands and so it is the husband who may need spousal support if the marriage dissolves. Similarly, there are also same-sex marriages where traditional gender roles may not even exist, though one spouse may still need more than the other. Permanent spousal support loses much of its rationale as women are empowered in their marriages and/or as marriage itself changes.  

Will There Be Cases Where Permanent Spousal Support Is a Good Idea?

However, each marriage is different and a “one size fits all” approach may not the possible. There may very well be some “traditional” marriages where one man makes sufficient income to support his whole family without a wife having to work. If that marriage is dissolved after twenty plus years, permanent spousal support would be justified. Similarly, a spouse who works so that the other spouse can obtain a higher degree is likely entitled to a certain level of spousal support.  

There are also other means of reforming permanent spousal support than terminating it entirely. California bars family courts from ordering a party to pay lifetime spousal support, but spouses can agree to permanent support if they consent in a settlement agreement. Likewise, most states require that a spouse who receives spousal support is entitled to support to maintain the standard of living they are accustomed to. This “standard of living” rule could be abolished to lower the amount of support required for wealthier supporting spouses to pay. While the 21st century demands some reform for spousal support, removing permanent spousal support entirely is rather uncalled for.  

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Family Law Issue?

Obtaining, contesting, or modifying an alimony award can be contentious and complicated. If you have encountered any issue related to family law, you should contact a family lawyer today. A skilled family lawyer can advise you of your rights and represent you in court.  

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