UPDATED 5:43p TO REFLECT THE PASSAGE OF SB 718.
BY: Jodi Furr Colton, Esq. | Brinkley Morgan
BOCA RATON, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) — A few years ago there was a major change in Florida’s alimony law. The legislature defined what constituted a short-term marriage, a long term-marriage and the “gray area” in between. The new law created different forms of alimony and gave courts substantially more flexibility in awarding alimony for a shorter duration, and encouraging the “impecunious” spouse to get back into the workforce–or enter it for the first time.
Well, the winds of change are blowing, and it’s not a light breeze. It’s a full-on palm tree bending, pool overflowing, wake your kids up from their naps, consider putting plywood on the windows, summer storm. SB 718 passed Thursday afternoon, eliminating permanent alimony as we know it, reducing the standard of living of alimony recipients, and generating a LOT more conflict for people going through a divorce. You can read the current draft by clicking here .
Under the new law, alimony can only be awarded for, at most, half the length of the marriage. The amount will be based on a fixed percentage of the paying spouse’s income, and the court will no longer consider the standard of living during the marriage, which has been the benchmark for years. The statute also presumes that no alimony at all should be awarded in a marriage of ten years or less (a short-term marriage) unless the person seeking alimony convinces the court that he or she needs support after the marriage ends.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, that is a matter of perspective. The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, i.e. divorce lawyers who deal with this stuff all day, every day, think the statute as written is a disaster. You can read that perspective by clicking here.
What does this mean for you? Nothing at all if you are never going to get divorced. If you are 100% certain that you will be married for the rest of your life then you can stop reading this right now.
But, if you have even the slightest doubt in your mind that divorce could happen to you, then this new law is a really big deal. It means that if you stopped working to stay home and raise your kids, or decided to quit your fast-paced, demanding, hours driven job and do something more “family-friendly” like—for example—teaching, or a part-time job, a divorce means you could be facing a very different financial future. The current version of the statute is geared toward putting a non-working spouse, or a lower earning spouse, back into the workforce at full speed.
But, you say, “We agreed I would stay home/work less/change professions/take a break until the kids are in high school. My husband/wife and I discussed it and we decided that we would do it this way. It’s pretty tough on a family to have both parents working full time, especially if we can’t afford two nannies and a housekeeper.” Well, the Florida legislature says to you: “Tough! That deal just ended. Go get a job.”
So, if you are the one who doesn’t make the money, can you do anything to protect yourself? This is going to be a challenging situation. These decisions about work and home, primary breadwinner versus two-parent working families, etc. are some of the hardest things grown-ups have to deal with. Now, you have to think about them and ALSO think about what would happen if your marriage does not succeed. No one likes to think about divorce, especially simultaneously with the question of what color to paint the new baby’s room, but if the law changes you may have to. If you and your spouse do want to “make a deal” in which one of you will be the primary earner while the other stops work, or even just slows down, you may consider putting that deal in writing in the form of a post-nuptial agreement (like a pre-nup, but it happens after not before you get married).
A formal written agreement may be the best way to protect that arrangement and provide clarity for both spouses as to who is “giving up” what. Other than that, don’t quit your day job if you want to maintain a similar standard of living to the one you had when you were married.
If you are the one making the money, what does this mean for you? Again, it’s hard to say. You will probably be paying less alimony than you would be under current law, but you will also probably be going through a more litigious and emotionally taxing process to get there.
If you and your spouse did make a decision that one of you would work more while the other would be primarily responsible for the home front, your spouse is going to be really, really angry if your post-filing for divorce attitude is basically “too bad so sad”. You are also going to have to readjust your life in a substantial way, and possibly make less money too.
The new law also calls for 50-50 timesharing in virtually all cases, which means you are going to be responsible for the kids, and carpool, and getting to ballet on time, and the house, and cooking dinner, and doing homework at least half of the time. That means more time at home and less time at work. Hopefully your boss is understanding, otherwise it’s going to be a hard road ahead.
Jodi Furr Colton is a Boca Raton attorney with the law firm of Brinkley Morgan. She focuses her practice on divorce, alimony, equitable distribution, parental responsibility and timesharing. Jodi is a graduate of Harvard Law School, Swarthmore College and Pine Crest. She is happily married and the mother of two. Learn more here, or telephone 561-665-4738.