After a ten-year legislative journey marked by fervent debates and four different bills, Governor Ron DeSantis has finally enacted a groundbreaking law transforming alimony regulations in Florida, including the abolition of what is termed as ‘permanent alimony.’
The Governor’s approval of the measure, known as SB 1416, arrived a year following his dismissal of similar legislation. That proposed law also sought to remove permanent alimony and introduce a formula to determine alimony based on the duration of the marriage.
The passage of SB 1416 marks the fourth attempt in the past ten years to dismantle the concept of permanent alimony. Before the version that DeSantis vetoed in 2022, two other bills met the same fate under the administration of former Governor Rick Scott.
As of Saturday, Florida’s revamped alimony law is now in operation. It not only puts an end to permanent alimony but also imposes a five-year cap on what’s referred to as rehabilitative alimony. Furthermore, it grants alimony payers the right to request adjustments under specific circumstances, among other changes. Let’s delve deeper into what these changes entail.
Transformation of Permanent Alimony
The approval of SB 1416 brings significant changes to Florida’s alimony regulations, most notably the cessation of permanent alimony. This reform is explicitly codified in the opening section of the bill, where Florida Statutes 61.08 is updated to refer to alimony as “temporary.” At the same time, all instances of the previously used term “permanent” are removed.
This new legislation enables judges to exercise more discretion in adjusting or terminating alimony, support, or maintenance payments. The assessment is made after taking into account multiple factors. A key factor is the payer’s age and health condition, ensuring that the payments do not become an excessive burden in the individual’s twilight years or poor health.
Another consideration is the payer’s customary retirement age according to their profession. This considers that people in different occupations often have different retirement timelines, reflecting a more individualized approach. Also, judges will have to factor in the potential economic impact of a reduction in alimony on the recipient. This is crucial to ensure that any changes do not precipitate undue financial hardship for the recipient. Finally, the judge will consider the payer’s motivations for retirement and the likelihood of returning to work, acknowledging that retirement doesn’t always mean a complete end to earning capacity.
Establishing the Burden of Proof for Alimony
Another significant change by SB 1416 pertains to the burden of proof in alimony cases. The second section of the law specifies that the party seeking alimony, support, or maintenance is now responsible for substantiating their need for support and demonstrating the other party’s capacity to provide it.
This shift can have considerable implications for alimony proceedings. Before this law, the burden of proof was not explicitly assigned, often leading to ambiguity and contention. The updated law seeks to inject clarity and fairness into the process. The party seeking alimony must now conclusively demonstrate their need for support, ensuring that alimony is granted based on genuine necessity rather than perceived entitlement.
The Concept of Permanent Alimony
Prior to the recent reform, permanent alimony was a financial arrangement wherein one spouse provided ongoing monetary support to the other until the latter’s demise, remarriage, or establishment of a supportive partnership. Florida was one of the few states, among them Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia, that allowed such indefinite alimony prior to the enactment of the new legislation on Saturday.
Incorporating New Factors in Alimony Determination
To refine the alimony award process, Florida’s SB 1416 introduces a host of new factors that courts must consider when deliberating on alimony decisions. It’s now required that the courts lay out factual findings for not just the type of alimony being awarded, but also the reasoning behind the duration of the award.
The new law incorporates many elements to clarify the alimony process. This includes who bears the burden of proof and a careful assessment of the payor’s financial ability to provide alimony. It also stipulates unique circumstances that must be satisfied for alimony to be secured with life insurance, adding a layer of complexity and specificity to the law.
Restructuring of Durational Alimony
The freshly minted law, SB 1416, introduces significant modifications to durational alimony in Florida, setting a cap on its duration to no more than three years. This limit is directly correlated to the length of the marriage, although there are exceptions. Moreover, the alimony amount is bound by either the recipient’s reasonable need or 35% of the net income disparity between the two parties, whichever is less, thereby ensuring proportionate and fair alimony payments post-divorce.
Retirement and Alimony Adjustments
A novel aspect introduced by SB 1416 concerns the position of ex-spouses who are responsible for making alimony payments and are considering retirement. The new law allows such individuals to initiate a process to seek modifications to their existing alimony agreements in line with their retirement plans. This provision ensures that the financial changes associated with retirement are reflected in alimony payments, promoting fairness and feasibility for the paying party.
Implications for Existing Alimony Agreements
Senate bill sponsor Joe Gruters, a Republican from Sarasota, assured that enacting the new law would not retroactively impact existing alimony settlements unconstitutionally. Essentially, the rights and provisions modifiable under previous case law remain amendable under the new law, while non-modifiable agreements continue to hold their unchangeable status. Thus, SB 1416 essentially codifies existing practices, providing a stronger legal grounding without altering the fundamentals of pre-existing alimony arrangements. If you are facing a divorce, consulting with an experienced Tampa divorce lawyer can help you navigate the new alimony laws that recently took effect in Florida.