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Politics / Issues

Senate Alimony Reform Getting Bipartisan Support

Deciding who is owed what after a divorce can be chaotic. But lawmakers want to bring order to the process through math. The Senate’s alimony reform bill uses a formula to decide how much a person should pay in alimony and for how long.

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Credit Guian Bollsay

The formula bases alimony payments on the couple’s gross income and the length of their marriage. Bill sponsor  Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) says that helps make alimony decisions more straight forward.

“What we did is we took the interested parties we had them sit down we asked them for today’s marriages how would you structure alimony. And that’s basically a start from zero. It’s a complete rewrite for how we do alimony, putting into the guidelines the factors and the formula driven model similar to how we do child support,” Stargel says.

Stargel says her bill isn’t based on a pervious bill that drew fire from activists who worried about the measure’s impact on women. And was eventually vetoed by the governor who raised concerns about the measure--including questions about the bill’s retroactivity. This time around the bill applies only to cases pending or filed after the measure’s implementation date. And Sen. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) says as a family law lawyer, he’s supportive of the changes. He says under current law he doesn’t have much ability to predict what kind of outcome his client can expect. He says this measure puts all parties on more equal footing.

“I think the way they’re going about determining the initial calculation finally makes sense and it’s something that I proposed three years ago," Soto says. "which is, you look at both party’s income and you try to reach the difference between them as a good way to start out and that would then put both parties in an equal position of marriage as far as their quality of life."

And Soto says he also appreciates that the bill allows for situations in which the formula might not work.

The way it would work in real practice makes sense as well because the judge could go with the guidelines,  and call it a day, but if any judge feels the guidelines don’t’ fit that particular case they just have to write some findings and then they can deviate from it however they want to," Soto says.

National Organization of Women representative Barbara DeVane says it appears to her that the Senate’s proposal is an improvement compared with past alimony overhaul attempts. But she says she’s still worried about how the change might affect women who give up their careers to care for their families and are later divorced by their husbands.

“Ageism is alive and well in the job market and the job market may have passed her by and she’s out trying to get a job and she will be discriminated against. I don’t care if she has training or education. And of course that’s not true in every profession. But it’s true of a lot of women who stay home so I implore you to please think about these older women,” DeVane says.

Tarie MacMillan works with the group Family Law Reform, which is a major force behind the legislation. MacMillan says she pays alimony to her ex-husband.

“My ex-husband who does not work receives 65 percent of what I earn and I who do work receive 35 percent of what I earn after 12 years of litigation. Under this bill a more balanced result could have been achieved without the need for such a personally and financially destructive lawsuit,” MacMillan says.

The measure passed the Senate committee unanimously. A similar bill is moving through the House.

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