Florida lawmakers Thursday approved a bill ending permanent alimony even while Florida Bar lobbyists have been trying to persuade Gov. Rick Scott to veto it.
The House passed the bill (SB 718) 85-31, with members of both parties crossing over. For example, Rep. Jared Evan Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, debated in favor and voted for it; Republican Rep. Seth McKeel of Lakeland voted against it.
The Senate previously approved it 29-11. If made a law, Florida would be the fifth state to abolish permanent alimony.
Scott's office said he would review the bill, but bill sponsor Ritch Workman, a Melbourne Republican, is confident the governor will sign it.
That's assuming the Bar, which licenses and regulates the state's 90,000 lawyers, doesn't wear him down.
The Bar's "Family Law section has now spent a couple of hundred thousand dollars on a couple of lobbyists to lobby the governor for a veto," Workman told reporters. "It's a desperate move."
Tallahassee attorney Thomas Duggar, a lead member of The Florida Bar's Family Law section, declined comment on lobbying efforts.
He did say the bill would force parties into court, instead of settling, for nearly every alimony action.
"It basically invalidates a spouse's decision to stay at home and raise kids," Duggar said. "He's calling it pro-family. If your spouse stays home, and you have an affair with your secretary and you walk out, this will make it easier for you. How is that pro-family?"
The proposal sets limits on the amount of alimony and how long one would receive financial support from an ex-spouse, though judges would be able to exercise discretion in some cases, such as when a spouse has a disability.
It would make it harder to get alimony in short-term marriages and would generally prevent alimony payments from lasting longer than one-half of the length of the marriage.
The bill defines a short-term marriage as less than 11 years, in which there's an assumption that alimony would not be awarded. If alimony is granted, it would not be more than 25 percent of the ex-spouse's gross income.
For failed marriages between 11 and 20 years, there's no assumption either way, but alimony would not amount to more than 35 percent of the ex-spouse's gross income.
And in long-term marriages, those longer 20 years, there would be an assumption in favor of alimony, though not more than 38 percent of an ex-spouse's gross income.
Moreover, the bill doesn't automatically end alimony when the paying ex-spouse retires, but that person could ask a judge to reduce the payment or even end it. The judge can consider age at retirement, ability to pay alimony and the financial situation of the person receiving alimony.
Rep. Barbara Watson, a Miami Gardens Democrat, said the measure ultimately discriminates against women who decided to be housewives, then were discarded when their "hip size changed from 36 to 46." They will be unlikely to rejoin the workforce with success, she said.
But Elizabeth Porter, a Lake City Republican, said those women will still be entitled to alimony under the bill.
"We're just saying that every case shouldn't be permanent alimony," she said. "You shouldn't be paying a lifetime of servitude on a short-term marriage."
Workman himself is divorced but said that did not motivate his interest in carrying the bill.
"There's nothing personal," he said, explaining that a poker buddy pestered him with stories of "families that have been ruined by judges and cost them the ability to heal."
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