THE PROBLEM

What’s Wrong With Florida Alimony Laws?

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The Problem with Florida’s Alimony Laws:

Florida’s permanent alimony laws are among the most draconian and out-of-date in the country. They have much in common with Massachusetts laws that were just radically overhauled to reflect 21st century social and economic realities, including the economic pressures caused by the ongoing recession, in which significantly more men than women have lost jobs.

While divorces in Florida are technically “no-fault,” they reflect attitudes and realities from America in the 1950s, when the divorcing husband was the sole breadwinner and always considered “the bad guy” in divorce, while the wife was considered “the helpless victim.” These antiquated stereotypes still drive much of what happens in the state’s family courts. Because of these laws and attitudes, it is common for healthy, employed women in their 30s and 40s to receive permanent alimony.

Our citizens deserve laws based on 21st century realities, on women’s business and economic power, and on the fact that people are living – and living well – decades longer than they did in the 1950s. It is not uncommon for people in all circumstances to retrain and reinvent themselves well into their forties, fifties, and even later. Women now make up half the workforce, and across the economy, women’s wages have increased from 62% of men’s wages in 1979 to 80% in 2008.

Where We Stand on Alimony:
We believe that in some marriages, a reasonable period of alimony is necessary for the transition period from married to single life, while the lower-earning spouse moves to independence. But, as is shown again and again in our publication, “The Shame of Florida: Alimony Horror Stories from the Sunshine State,” routine awards of permanent alimony – all too common in Florida courts – can easily be destructive to the entire family.

Instead of ending a marriage, awards of permanent alimony force divorced couples to remain in a constant state of financial entanglement, and allow either party the right to return to divorce court and renegotiate alimony at any time. The financial costs, including attorneys’ fees, are substantial, and the psychological costs to all family members, including children, stepchildren, grandparents – and the divorced couple – can border on cruelty. Many families with awards of permanent alimony are shattered across generations.

Among the most egregious problems with current law is that alimony payers do not have the right to retire – even if the retirement is forced – and have their payments lowered or ended, without costly returns to court. In many cases, awards are not lowered or are lowered insignificantly, even when the recipient makes more money than the payer – and even when the payer is in his 70s or 80s, and/or living entirely on Social Security.

Chilling Effect on Marriage: 
Florida’s alimony laws and the court’s gender biases have a chilling effect on marriage and remarriage. Unless these laws and attitudes move into our social and economic reality, marriage rates – especially for those receiving and paying alimony – will continue to plummet.

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Spousal Support Disorder

SPOUSAL SUPPORT DISORDER: An Overview Of Problems In Current Alimony Law
by Jennifer McCoy
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW [Vol. 33:501]
“As demonstrated in the previous section of this Comment, significant problems exist with spousal support law as it exists today. There is no legal basis for requiring someone to continue supporting his or her former spouse, especially one with no childcare responsibilities or health problems that prohibit employment. Everybody resents making support payments, the system is often taken advantage of, and the mere existence of spousal support contributes to society’s negative image of women as helpless and dependent on men. So why do legislatures and courts continue to maintain the system? Perhaps more importantly, should legislatures and courts continue to maintain the system? ” …

“Instead of basing this new system of spousal support on the compensation or rehabilitation theories, the court should base support on a temporary basic needs model. The temporary basic needs model would focus on supporting the immediate, physical needs of the recipient spouse, such as shelter, food, clothing, and medical care. Under this rationale, the less economically advantaged spouse will not become destitute following divorce, and the wealthier spouse will not be required to assume total responsibility for someone else’s future. In determining the monetary value of support awards, courts should still use traditional statutory guidelines and judicial discretion, but the primary determinant of the award’s value should be the supporting spouses’ own needs, salary, and ability to make payments without sacrificing their own standards of living and without compromising their future abilities to assume responsibility for new spouses and children. Most importantly, support payments under this new system would only be temporary. Awards should last no longer than one or two years. This period constitutes a sufficiently reasonable period of time for the recipient spouse to adjust to his or her newly single status, but not long enough for him or her to become accustomed to such payments. Payments should end immediately if the recipient remarries, cohabitates, or attains steady employment prior to the cut-off date.

Although no system of spousal support will ever be perfect, a good system will balance the needs of the supported spouse against the burden on the supporting spouse and will ensure that the negative effects of divorce are imposed equally on both partners to the marriage.171 Spousal support should be a temporary measure. It should not be a way of life the recipient can rely on forever and not a responsibility for which the paying spouse remains indefinitely obligated.”