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Florida alimony reform bill vetoed by Governor

On Friday, April 15, 2016, Governor Rick Scott, for the second time, vetoed a significant alimony reform bill.  His stated reason was that the bill required judges to assume 50/50 time with each parent when determining time sharing for children of divorce, versus the judge being able to determine what is in the best interest of the child on a case by case basis.   So, while Florida does have a formula for calculating Child Support based on parental finances, there is not currently a formal calculation that is used for Alimony.  See the article here: http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/gov-rick-scott-vetoes-controversial-alimony-bill/2273409.

With the failure of the Legislature to pass the bill in 2015 due to legislator shenanigans, the Governor’s second veto makes it three years in a row that this comprehensive reform of Florida’s alimony and timesharing laws – supported by many different groups – has not become law.  We at Tampa Friendly Divorce believe the best thing for children of divorce is that divorcing parents should be able to determine what is in their children’s best interest, based on their unique family dynamics and needs, but we did not see the alimony/time-sharing bill as preventing – or even seriously limiting – the parties’ ability to negotiate what they believe is in their – and their shared children’s – best interest.

After divorce, the parents will have separate, but parallel lives: parallel because of the continued interactions inherent in co-parenting their shared children.  We concurred with the Legislature’s approach to time-sharing and alimony: providing presumptions as to amounts of time-sharing each parent would receive and as to amounts and duration of alimony.  The presumptions were just that, presumptions.  The Court could always deviate from these presumptions after taking into account several factors (including, as to time-sharing, what the Court ultimately finds is in the children’s best interest).  The factors were essentially the same factors the Court has always had to consider in making alimony or timesharing decisions.  Thus, the reform’s presumptions would have worked in the same manner as Child Support currently does, with the usual, presumed amount calculated by statute but then subject to variation by the Court, when the Court is persuaded by evidence that such variations are in the children’s best interests.

Divorcing spouses may always divide their marital assets and debts by agreement, to address what they both believe is financially necessary for each, in light of (any changes in) alimony or child support guidelines.  Were the alimony reform adopted, the spouses would have guidelines by which to begin their discussion as to alimony; were the time-sharing reform adopted, the spouses would likewise have a starting point from which to discuss what they believe would be in their children’s best interest regarding how the spouses will co-parent after the divorce.   In both cases, a good agreement would be based on their discussion of these concerns, and an agreement reached through that thorough discussion will likely lead to a lasting agreement the Court would accept.  Consequently, if the vetoed reforms are eventually adopted, the marital settlement agreements submitted to the Court at that time would simply need to spell out which of the statutory factors the spouses considered and the factual bases for varying from the guidelines – in other words, to spell out the major features of why they reached the agreement they did – but the agreement would still be theirs, and not made by some outside party who cannot ever really understand what the divorcing spouses believe is needed for themselves and their shared children.

When two divorcing spouses take into account their children’s best interests and related factors as to alimony and division of assets/liabilities, they are able to come to an agreement (on their own or via mediation) as to (1) how to co-parent and share time with their children, (2) how to divide their assets and liabilities, and (3) how much alimony (if any and for what duration) would be fair and child support needed.  That process of open discussion itself helps each spouse begin to transition successfully into their separate, yet parallel lives.  What’s more, the divorcing couple will already have at least one successful experience in discussing and achieving an effective and harmonious plan for their respective co-parented families moving forward, which we at Tampa Friendly Divorce deeply believe is the best outcome for all.

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