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My Turn
Other Views from Those in the Know
David L. Manz
chair
Preserving Alimony Laws is Good for Families and Taxpayers

During the 2012 Legislative Session, the Florida Legislature took an important step to ensure fair and equitable provisions for individuals and families facing divorce. The Legislature faced down a threat from a special interest group called Floridians For Alimony Reform (FAR), which sought to change alimony laws to the benefit of a small, one-sided group of Floridians.

The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, which represents over 4,000 family law attorneys across the state, opposed  FAR’s efforts throughout the 2012 Session.  The Family Law Section is comprised of practicing attorneys who represent husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and children and families. We knew that 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.

Over the past several years, the Family Law Section has worked closely with the Legislature to pass good public policy that is fair and equitable to all parties. As a result of the changes made to the alimony statutes, fewer cases are litigated; more are settled.  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.

Published Thursday, March 22, 2012