Changing our alimony laws would increase the need and cost of litigation, put primarily women at risk, and negatively affect Florida’s children.
What is at stake: the concept known as “permanent alimony.” Permanent alimony is meant to meet the needs of a spouse who is unable to support herself or himself after a long term marriage. An example is a spouse who stays home to raise children, forgoing a career and the ability to build up retirement assets. If a divorce occurs after many years, this spouse may be left without the ability to support herself or himself. Alimony “reform” advocates argue that this is an antiquated method. What they do not explain, however, is that their efforts to change alimony laws are not only unnecessary; they would have broad, adverse impacts and unintended consequences.
Florida currently enjoys some of the most progressive alimony laws in the nation. For example, all alimony awards in Florida are predicated on one party’s need and the other’s ability to pay. Absent both need and ability to pay, alimony cannot be awarded. Moreover, unless agreed to by the parties, permanent alimony is always modifiable if either spouse demonstrates a substantial change in circumstances.
Nevertheless, Floridians for Alimony Reform sought to undermine this hard work, which would have had disastrous effects. Changes to current alimony laws would strain our already overwhelmed court system and ultimately increase Floridians’ dependence on social programs by forcing predominantly women and children into state-run programs and services. This would result in an increased burden on taxpayers. It would also increase attorneys’ fees and costs for all spouses, affecting anyone who seeks a divorce.
If change is not necessary from a judicial, social, or economic standpoint, why are some stakeholders working so hard to force these revisions to Florida’s alimony laws? The answer, though unfortunate, is simple: a special interest group—a narrow coalition of mostly male alimony payors —is attempting to legislate their way out of paying alimony.
Luckily, the Florida House and Senate rejected their efforts this Session, standing up for Florida’s families. The people of Florida should thank lawmakers for preserving permanent alimony. This is good for spouses, families, and taxpayers across Florida.
David L. Manz is the Chair of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar. He practices with the law firm of Greenman & Manz in the firm’s Marathon and Key West offices.