For the third time in a decade, an alimony reform bill is headed to the Florida governor’s desk, and lobbyists and advocates for both sides will do all they can to sway Governor Ron DeSantis to their side.
At the heart of the controversy: the retroactive nature of the bill, which will fundamentally alter the legal landscape for thousands of Floridians currently living under a modifiable alimony agreement. Despite proponents of the bill claiming that it would not be retroactive, legal experts say that’s just plain false. By making the act applicable “to any action pending on or after July 1, 2022,” experts say the bill would in fact be retroactive and substantively affect thousands of current alimony awards, including those that were created by virtue of a bargained-for contract between two parties.
In short, anyone currently receiving alimony payments under a modifiable alimony agreement negotiated under the current law would be subject to the new rules under any new modifications to the agreement that take place if DeSantis decides to sign the bill. Future negotiations would be subject to the new “rules of the road,” which neither party anticipated when agreeing to the original terms, effectively changing the rules of the game for tens of thousands of families.
“The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar is respectfully asking Governor DeSantis to carefully review the policies in SB 1796 that will negatively impact Floridians – some of our state’s most vulnerable, including seniors and children – and ultimately veto these unwarranted changes to alimony and timesharing,” said Heather Apicella, Chair of The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar. “Proposed changes to alimony in this bill are retroactive and will affect existing and pending awards of alimony, impacting countless marital settlement agreements and final judgements.”
Reform advocates have attempted to argue the bill is not retroactive because non-modifiable alimony agreements remain so, and modifiable agreements are already modifiable, and the law doesn’t change that.
“SB 1796 would modernize Florida’s alimony law, by making the process more equitable and predictable for all parties while also reducing the cost of litigation,” said Marc Johnson, from Florida Family Fairness. “This bill also protects children and allows both parties to retire with dignity, while giving the courts discretion to protect vulnerable alimony recipients.”
However, family law experts say that altering the legal landscape governing future alimony agreements and making those alterations applicable to existing agreements made under the previous rules is effectively changing the rules of the game and thus “retroactive.”
“This sets a dangerous precedent for contractual agreements in Florida, and we are deeply concerned that this public policy erases equitability and sets up a system that heavily favors one party, while damaging the other unnecessarily. It will also result in prolonged litigation, drive the cost of divorce up and cause backlogs in an already overburdened family court system.”
On two previous occasions, Governor Rick Scott has vetoed extremely similar bills, once in 2013 and again in 2016. In his veto message he specifically called out the unfair nature of the retroactive nature of the proposed reforms.