Changes Proposed for Florida’s Alimony, Child Timesharing Laws [COMMENTARY]
Currently, alimony is awarded to a lesser or non-earning spouse for either a specific or indefinite length of time, known as permanent alimony. The amount of alimony depends on a list of factors but is mostly set at the judge’s discretion based on how he/she views the need of the party requesting alimony and the other party’s ability to pay.
Alimony reform supporters argue the law is unpredictable and leads to different results from different judges. The bills would create certainty and fairness because alimony would be determined based on a formula that considers the actual or potential income of both parties. Alimony duration would be set based on the length of the parties’ marriage.
Under the current law, a judge has discretion to determine child timesharing based on factors that ultimately give the judge discretion to apportion time. Historically, mothers were designated the “primary residential parent” based on a presumption that mothers should be primary caregivers to younger children. For many years, mothers were given custody while fathers were given visitation.
The law has evolved to the concept of timesharing replacing visitation and removing the presumption in favor of the mother. A judge still has wide discretion to decide timesharing, and judges are not required to put in writing any of the reasons behind their decisions.
Reform supporters argue the law allows a judge to fashion any timesharing schedule. Because judges are not required to explain their decisions other than stating it is in the best interests of the child, a judge’s decision is almost always final and cannot be overturned on appeal.
Despite concerns with the current law, fathers are increasingly receiving equal or nearly equal timesharing. But supporters of reform argue this is not uniform and, much like alimony, results vary among judges. The reformers say some judges are more in favor of equal timesharing than others.
For many judges, supporters believe the presumption favoring the mother was removed in name only and mothers continue to receive more parenting time. Many fathers still spend less time with their children post-divorce, some only one weekend per month. The fathers say this limited involvement does not promote a meaningful relationship between parent and child.
The bills would create the following alimony changes:
• Lifetime alimony would be replaced by alimony for a set time period.
• Alimony would be based on a formula making it easier to calculate and more predictable.
• Retirement age would be considered a change of circumstance to modify or eliminate alimony payments.
• Recipients would be required to their best efforts to get a job and contribute to their own expenses.
• A revised list of factors to be considered in determining whether an existing alimony award should be reduced or even terminated because of an alleged supportive relationship, including eliminating proof of cohabitation.
The proposed bills would create the following changes to timesharing:
• A presumption that parents spend equal or nearly equal time with their children, absent circumstances such as abuse and domestic violence.
• This presumption can be overcome with evidence of certain factors, such as the parents living too far apart for the equal timesharing to work, whether the parents can divide the parenting responsibilities, the desirability of maintaining a consistent environment for the child and whether the parent requesting the timesharing is personally available to care and does not plan to leave the child with third parties.
• If a judge awards less timesharing to one parent, the judge must explain in writing why he/she has done so.
Opponents of alimony reform argue the law will disproportionately affect women. This seems unlikely since the bill is not retroactive, meaning women currently receiving alimony cannot have their alimony modified based solely on a change in law. The bills would affect only current and future divorces. Since 40 percent of working women earn more than their husbands, it is likely we will prospectively see more women paying rather than receiving alimony.
Opponents of equal timesharing argue the bills would require equal timesharing in every case, which it does not. Opponents are also concerned about young children who might be disrupted by an equal timesharing arrangement. In those situations, a judge still has discretion to deal with the needs of the children. However, a plethora of research lends itself to supporting equal or nearly equal parenting time.
How We Can Help
If you, a friend or a family member find themselves in a situation such as this, please call the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A. at 305 670-3330 right away. Scott A. Ferris, Esq. is a licensed family law attorney who has been practicing law since 1987. He is available whenever you need him to pursue your rights. Please learn about our firm at www.FerrisLawFirm.com.
Republished by the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A.