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A Bill To Reform Alimony Moves Forward In Senate

Guian Bollsay
Credit Guian Bollsay

A measure that would make a change to the state’s alimony rules is moving through the legislature. Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland)  says her bill creates a formula for how alimony should be awarded and puts new benchmarks in place for when an alimony payment should be modified.

“So what it’s doing with the award of alimony is trying to remove the emotion from a situation for all people involved and moving it to a financial decision,” Stargel says.

One reason the bill would let a person ask the courts for an alimony change is retirement. Stargel says the bill also allows people who work in professions that don’t include a typical retirement age to approach the court before retiring.

“If you’re in a profession like law enforcement where it’s not  a set date, the bill affords you the opportunity to go in prior to retirement and say ‘hey, court, am I at an age where it would acceptable to retire?’ And then once you have retired, you then have the ability to go to the court and request a modification of your alimony. But it does not mean it goes away. It’s a request for modification,” Stargel says.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) doesn’t think the provision is needed.

“Isn’t it true that a person who was retired normally without this bill still would have the opportunity to go before the court and ask for a modification just based on the fact that their income would be significantly decreased? Because isn’t the standard now that you can go in when there is a material change in income? So why do we need to codify now that you can go when you retire?” Joyner says.

And Barbara DeVane with the National Organization for Women, or NOW, says often the people who receive alimony are women who left the workforce to raise their children. DeVane says a provision in the bill would allow a person to seek an alimony modification if the person they are paying receives a 10 percent salary increase. And she says for a woman earning $10 an hour, that would mean a pay bump up to $11.

"Maybe you go out and you can find a little job after staying at home all these years and you’re older and there is age discrimination in hiring and also you’re way behind on your skills at finding a job, keeping a job, getting a job--and you get a $10 an hour job and you get a $1 raise and now you have to go back to court because your ex husband is going to try to get a modification,” DeVane says.

DeVane says the women she’s talking about likely wouldn’t be able to afford a lawyer to represent them. But on the other side of the argument Natalie Sohn says she find’s NOW’s arguments offensive. She says women are not helpless.

“I’m a lifetime payer after only 14 years of marriage. I’m a physician. I work 60 hour weeks. I support three children in college. There is no way that I can possibly pay my ex-husband, pay for my own self, pay for my three kids in college, save a little bit for retirement and possibly work forever,” Sohn says.

Meanwhile, Stargel points out the measure gives courts plenty of room to make case by case decisions.

“Throughout the entire bill, there is the ability of the court to go outside of those parameters if they feel best, they have that total discretion,” Stargel says.

Stargel’s bill also includes a provision creating the presumption that in a divorce it is in the best interest of the child to split their time equally between their parents. The measure passed a Senate Committee Thursday. Another measure that includes a provision to split a child’s time between both parents has passed on the Senate floor.

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