Here We Go Again: Florida’s Great Alimony Circus Returns

by | Mar 23, 2023

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…


  1. Dumb Joe

    I’m sure that I can’t be the only one. My ex-wife didn’t want to work. She sat home and occasionally volunteered while the kids went to daycare and eventually school.

    Then, after the kids were in college she decided she didn’t want to be married to me anymore. So here I am paying alimony until one of us dies.

    She had an internet relationship prior to the divorce that I was unaware of. She’s been living with that guy for the last five years and I’m supporting both of them.

    I currently have a suit filed to reduce or remove my alimony but I don’t have a lot of hope since I live in Florida.

    I thought we’d be together forever.

    How fair is this?

  2. Marv Frandsen

    I disagree with your assessment of Florida family law.

    The alimony reform bills are not retroactive. Any standing Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) or final divorce order cannot be changed unless there is a substantial change in circumstances. There are rules and severe standards for a substantial change. Finalized MSAs in particular are difficult to change. Only if high standards are met can a finalized divorce be ‘retroactively’ changed to avoid gross injustice.

    Virtually all MSAs contain a provision where the parties agree to allow ‘retroactive’ change pursuant to standing Florida law. The few MSAs who refuse retroactive change are the cause of many horror stories. This is similarly true in virtually all judicially imposed final orders (where the parties failed to settle).

    Thus in virtually all cases under current law the parties have already agreed to accept retroactive change or have been routinely ordered to submit to ‘retroactive’ change. Where parties settled and did not agree to retroactive change then alimony reform will never affect those agreements.

    Many of the the rules for handling a changing divorce (‘retroactively’ if you wish) including retirement of the alimony payor are created by current Florida case law. The alimony reform bill merely steps in to provide an explicit statutory structure actually democratically passed by a state legislature that everybody can read and understand and know what to expect. I believe that is the legislature’s job and part of democracy.

    There are two sides to every divorce. A man trapped in permanent alimony with no hope of retirement is a slave and potentially a destitute slave. This is particularly true if his income unfortunately drops due to business or employment change which is very common.

    The stereotype of a lifetime homemaker left destitute but for permanent alimony is not realistic. If the woman’s husband was successful enough to pay substantial permanent alimony then she is substantially and automatically entitled to half his earned Social Security benefits. She will also have taken half of the marital private sector retirement benefits and half of other mutual assets built through the marriage. Today’s Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans also provide a protective layer of health care with attractive benefits.

    Another reality is in today’s society women rear fewer children (lower fertility) and have ample opportunity and ability and time for training and employment both during and after marriage. It does not take very long in Florida to qualify for permanent alimony. Most women divorce while they are still trainable, employable, and healthy enough to work.

    Successful women are more and more often trapped into paying permanent alimony to an unproductive husband. These women are typically not amused at their reversed predicament.

    Typically (about 2/3) a woman initiates the divorce, not the man. This statistic is because in divorce a woman expect assets and income to be shifted to her sole ownership. No man divorces a woman – especially a long time dependent wife – in hopes of getting richer.

    Litigated divorces involving permanent alimony are traumatic, costly, horrendous, adverse experiences for all concerned, and everyone is worse off. At the very least the Florida legislature should be setting the rules and expectations for the experience and aftermath.

    The Florida legislature has passed alimony reform multiple times with super-majority votes. The Florida Legislature understands the need for reform and updating Florida’s outdated alimony laws that do not fit today’s realities. The alimony bills are not retroactive in any meaningful sense. Florida’s Governor should not stand in the way.

    • Brian Burgess

      And yet, a former family law judge took one look at the bill and concluded exactly the opposite.

      Given that the law is written in such a way that legal experts such as yourself can’t even agree in what the law says, that is proof positive that the law is written poorly and with too much room for interpretation.

      It’s exactly why Governor Scott and Governor DeSantis have uncapped their veto pens and broke with the GOP legislature three previous times.

  3. NaplesMom

    The only tool the courts had to remedy gross dissipation of assets in my divorce was through permanent alimony. This bill would give a green light to dissipation of assets, with impunity. I have no doubt the proponent’s are well aware of this bonus feature.

  4. Tim T

    I be am tired of the pundits always claiming ygst this benefits higher wage earners. The majority of us are middle/working classes that the the idea of retroactivity is the only way we will ever get relief from vindictive money grubbers exes. My ex was living with a man buying homes and property together and receiving large death benefits and I still have no recourse because of “permanent” alimony. She’s Hundreds of thousands in the bank and I still pay.

  5. cdccscxcxcx

    How is the working spouse compensated for missed time w/ their children?

    • Brian Burgess

      That’s a novel argument. The working spouse has generally to spend evenings and weekends on quality time with kids – just as it has been for several generations.

      In an agrarian society, the kids come out to the fields as soon as they are old enough.

      In our modern society we pawn them off on public schools.

      That leaves evenings and weekends just like the other spouse.

  6. Michael T

    Let us be clear that no law is perfect and 100% is subject to interpretation – this is a step in the right direction.

    – 19 years of marriage (permanent alimony threshold reached)
    – Working-Spouse mutually agreed primary earner
    – At-Home-Spouse mutually agreed stay at home with children
    – Working-Spouse works from home; equally involved in 100% of stay at home parental duties for entire children’s upbringing
    – At-Home-Spouse works as well from home, but lesser + has more education, but earns less due to field choice
    – At-Home-Spouse decides to leave/divorce
    – At-Home-Spouse gets half of all marital assets
    – At-Home-Spouse gets permanent alimony
    – Working-Spouse, still young (low 40s), has to pay permanently

    The fact that someone can choose to leave you then require you be permanently obligated to them to a bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars of future earnings, is simply unfair.

    Some alimony is almost always fair, but not permanent. I read this law to say just that. As it relates to the above scenario, this law says, “An award of durational alimony may not exceed 75 percent of the length of a long-term marriage” [between 10 <= 19 years]. This means the Obligee (Working-Spouse) is still obligated to pay alimony for >14 years. This still feels unfair, but at least it is not permanent.

  7. RD

    The devil is always in the details.

    A spouse who cheated should NEVER get alimony. THAT should be written in as Rule#1.

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