It seems like déjà vu all over again, but for the second time during his tenure as Governor, Rick Scott has vetoed an alimony reform bill. Now the question remains: Will Florida ever see alimony reform? Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that there will be any serious alimony reform in Florida until the legislature gets its act together.
To fully understand why the latest alimony reform billed died at the desk of the Governor, it’s useful to understand a little about why the 2013 legislation failed -- and the legislative process in general. First, let’s examine the 2013 law, which seemed poised to pass until a retroactivity clause was included into the bill. Due to this retroactivity clause, which would have thrown thousands of previously settled divorce cases into chaos and uncertainty, Governor Scott rightfully vetoed the bill when it arrived at his desk for signature. It is unfortunate the legislature opted to include the poisonous retroactive clause within the alimony reform bill back in 2013; otherwise, it had a real shot at passing and addressing an issue that sorely needed to be revisited.
So what exactly happened to derail the bill in 2016? Well, this time the legislature thought it was wise to include a child timesharing provision within the alimony bill that would have created a starting proposition in favor of equal timesharing between mothers and fathers. Once that provision was included, it seemed inevitable that this bill would be doomed as well, considering the importance in family law cases of treating each case individually, without a one-size-fits-all remedy, which this timesharing provision would have codified.
Another problem with the bill was that was the constitutionality of the bill itself. Article III, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution holds that, “Every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.” Sounds fairly straightforward, right? One law, one subject. Unfortunately, however, the idea of one law, one subject seems to have been lost on the legislature, as evidenced by their failed attempt to combine the very distinct issues of alimony law and timesharing.
Ultimately, the issues related to the failures of both the 2013 and 2016 alimony bills ended up having very little to do with the substantive issues of reforming alimony, and in particular, the awarding of permanent alimony in Florida. In fact, alimony reform would likely be a done deal at this point had the legislature decided to just tackle one subject, alimony, as the state constitution intends. Instead, another opportunity for meaningful reform was squandered by our politicians, and as Governor Scott stated when he vetoed the bill, indicating the reason for his veto was due to the timesharing provision: “The one constant though is that when a divorce involves a minor child, the needs of the child must come before all others. Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the children first when determining a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule. This bill has the potential to up-end that policy in favor of putting the wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing. Our judges must consider each family’s unique situation and abilities and put the best interests of the child above all else.”
Attorney Russell J. Frank is a partner at CPLS. P.A. and focuses his practice areas on family and marital law.