Like a team that makes it to the playoffs but fails to go all the way, Florida alimony reform activists are vowing that they will come back fighting next year.
The push to change the state’s divorce laws centers on the proposed elimination of permanent alimony, which critics say is an antiquated approach left from the days when most women were homemakers completely dependent on their husbands for financial support. Many states have revised their divorce laws to reflect the more equal economic status and earning potential typical of today’s married couples — some even banishing the dreaded word alimony in favor of the less emotionally loaded spousal support. But Florida courts are still permitted to order alimony payments, generally from ex-husband to ex-wife, that are required to continue until death do them part (or until the payee remarries).
Reform activists say the laws unfairly allow women who are perfectly capable of earning a living to live off their ex-husbands indefinitely, causing the men serious financial hardships and preventing them from retiring or remarrying (for fear that the new wife’s income would be diverted into an increased alimony award for the ex).
In February 2012, the Florida House of Representatives in an 83-to-30 vote passed House Bill 549, which sets new guidelines for the calculation and duration of alimony payments, replacing permanent alimony with a provision for long-term alimony. It also opened the door for ending payments upon the payer’s retirement, and eliminated adultery as a factor in awarding alimony.
But the Senate, after significantly reworking Senate Bill 748 with changes less drastic than those in the House bill, failed to bring it to a vote in this legislative session.
Make no mistake, though: The Florida divorce reform movement, like the alimony payments of generations of payers, is not going away any time soon.