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Alimony Overhaul Ready For House Vote, But No Movement Yet In Senate

MGN Online
Credit MGN Online
MGN Online

Alimony reform is back before Florida lawmakers. But the bill’s sponsor says this year’s version of the bill is different. Republican Rep. Colleen Burton is backing one of the legislature’s most emotionally-charged issues.

When it comes to alimony, people have a lot to say:

"[My] wife of 14 years divorced me back in 1995 and for an unknown reason, permanent alimony was awarded and I’ve been paying it ever since," explained retired cardiologist Stephen Shane.

Many people who pay alimony, up to a lifetime of it in Florida, believe the system is broken and in need of repair. They feel wronged by judges, and say it’s hard to move forward with new relationships after bitter divorces, when they’re still tied financially to former spouses. But there’s another side. Those who oppose the bill like Shelly Moxon Lehman, a single mom who was granted alimony by the courts. She says her ex-husband is $225,000 behind in alimony payments.

“He also committed adultery, so I had no choice after 18 years," she said. "So I was stuck raising our children by myself. Now I’m destitute. I’m on food stamps. I tried to get a job, I’m a college graduate, I graduated from Tulane University. And I have a political science [degree]. That doesn’t get you anywhere at 56 nowadays.”

This year’s alimony reform bill is backed by Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland. It eliminates permanent alimony, and puts a formula in place for courts to use in making alimony decisions. It also allows courts to consider co-habitation and retirement as factors in requests for alimony reductions. And Burton highlights another point:  

“Most recently in committee the question was asked whether if someone is making $10 an hour and they get a raise to $11 an hour if it automatically reduced payment. It doesn’t do that. What it does is provide for change in circumstance if the oblige-e received $10 percent above the actual income that was impugned to them during the actual agreement.”

But longtime Lobbyist Barbara DeVane with the Florida National Organization for Women, disagrees with Burton’s interpretation on what the bill says about how pay raises factor into alimony considerations.

“My copy of the bill does say if a woman is making $10 an hour and she gets a dollar raise, it is cause for the husband, usually a man, to take her back to court.”

Meanwhile the family law section of the Florida Bar, is now in support of Burton’s version of the bill. The bar’s Joe Hunt says it will provide predictability in outcomes.

“You can get a different outcome in Miami versus one in Jacksonville. Is that fair to the citizens in Florida when the facts are the same because there’s too much discretion in alimony? This provides guidelines that are well overdue," he said.

Previous votes on alimony reform usually fall on party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats against. But Representative Jared Moskowitz has backed the bill for the past three years.

“I want to give you a different side, the side of a child in a divorce, which I was," he said. "The reason I’ve supported this bill for three years is because I believe an indefinite financial relationship between two parents who have decided to no longer be married is bad for the children, and I experienced that. That’s why I support this bill.”

The alimony bill received an affirmative vote in its last House committee stop. It now heads to the chamber floor. But the companion bill in the Senate By Senator Kelli Stargel is still awaiting its first hearing.


*Editor's Note: Headline word change from "Reform" to "Overhaul" to better reflect what the bill does.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.