Ladies and gentlemen, step right up to witness Florida’s latest attempt at alimony reform! It seems that every time the Big Top goes up for legislative session, some of our alleged champions of family values manage to bring the same bad bill for another go. This year’s legislative session promises a similar dazzling spectacle, as the controversial alimony reform bill (SB 1416 and HB 1409) once again takes center stage.
In previous acts, the show-stopping feature was the retroactive nature of the proposed law. That’s right, folks, after three vetoes by Governors Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott, all for the same reason, the ringmasters have returned with yet another version that – surprise! – would once again apply to existing alimony agreements. And they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results…
Now, this time, the supporters of this spectacle claim that they’ve struck a delicate balance between alimony payers and alimony recipients, but have they really? They said something similar last year, after all. A simple reading of the bill shows it would still allow judges to reduce or terminate alimony payments, and at least one family law judge argues that it is, indeed, just as retroactive as the previously vetoed alimony bills. Can you imagine the chaos in the courts as thousands of current divorce settlements are suddenly up for renegotiation?
But don’t worry, folks! That won’t happen, we’re assured. And besides, proponents argue, it’s all in the name of “fairness” and ending “permanent” alimony. Never mind that most of the advocates for these radical changes in law are wealthy professionals with high earning potential, who just can’t bear the thought of continuing to support their ex-spouses, many of whom made sacrifices during the marriage for the benefit of their family. Fairness, indeed.
It’s especially galling that the same Republicans who claim to champion traditional marriage and family values seem to have no qualms about making divorce a more financially attractive option for primary earners. What a fantastic way to strengthen the institution of marriage! Fortunately, not all Republicans are behind the bill. Credit State Senator Clay Yarborough for courageously voting “no” during a recent committee hearing.
Among the most vocal opponents of the retroactive nature of this annual monstrosity is a group called First Wives Advocacy, women who sacrificed career and earning opportunities to raise children or otherwise support their working spouses – sacrifices which used to be considered a virtue in our culture – only to be left picking up the financial pieces when their marriages ended. As the founder of First Wives Advocacy, Jan Killilea, points out, permanent alimony may not be required for every case, or even a majority of them, but it undoubtedly serves a crucial purpose for certain situations that are still fairly common.
If the bill is passed as written and eradicates permanent alimony, it effectively ties the hands of judges in situations where a spouse emerges from a long marriage lacking current job skills. It’s not hard to imagine how many modern marriages could be impacted, where over the course of the relationship, mutually decided by the couple, one person made career sacrifices while the other partner pursued a lucrative career, gaining experience and earning potential, firmly believing that they would stay together for life and that their partnership helped both of them.
Fast forward to a split between that couple, and there’s immediately an imbalance that can only be rectified by permanent alimony – there’s simply no way some stay-at-home partners will ever be able to fully restore the sacrifices made during the marriage. And without some protections in place, Republicans are sending a strong message that sacrificing career opportunities as a stay-at-home spouse isn’t worthy of respect or protection, because anyone making those sacrifices will not receive adequate protection in our state.
If Republicans value the sacrifices made by stay-at-home moms and dads, and indeed seek to encourage couples to enter into marriages where one parent makes those career sacrifices for the sake of their children and family, then Republicans must make divorce significantly less financially attractive for primary earners to walk away from their commitments, period. Rather than diving right into alimony reform by trying to make divorce more “fair” for primary earners, Republican lawmakers should start by asking how the proposed “reform” strengthens the institution of marriage itself.
So, as the Florida legislature – led by some of the most allegedly “pro-family” Republicans in our state – starts to grapple with this, we can only hope that sensible lawmakers with a passion for strengthening marriages step up and throw this garbage bill out. We shouldn’t have to depend, year-after-year, on Governor DeSantis to uncap his veto pen and send this trashy alimony reform bill to its rightful place in the political graveyard.
Of course, if it does go down in flames again this year, don’t worry! We’ll undoubtedly be in for another round of the absurd alimony circus next year, and the year after, and the year after that…