We all have a friend (who has a friend) that stays in a bad marriage just because he (or she) can't afford the alimony that often comes along with ending the relationship. For those living in a ship-wrecked marriage, help may be on the way. If proposed alimony reform is passed by the Florida Legislature, for many it may no longer be "cheaper to keep her."
In response to sweeping reforms in other states (most recently Massachusetts and New Jersey), legislators in Florida (one of which ironically is now going through his own divorce) have recently introduced parallel bills in the Florida House and Senate that are intended to bring what many perceive to be antiquated laws concerning alimony into the 21st century.
Key provisions of the bills would limit the maximum duration of alimony based on the length of marriage; terminate alimony at full retirement age (currently 66); and cap alimony at no more than 20% of the payer's net monthly income. The most important change -- particularly for the millions of (predominantly) men serving as indentured servants to their former spouses -- is its retroactive nature, allowing a spouse the ability to go back to court to modify his or her existing orders of support in line with the parameters of the new law.
Proponents of the bill (again, mostly men) argue that the current laws concerning alimony have the effect of making former spouses ending long-term marriages "partners for life," and that the current laws fail to acknowledge the reality that in most households today, both spouses work.
Everyone has a friend who has a friend with a horror story. There is the man who works two jobs so his former spouse can avoid working while living and traveling with her new boyfriend. There is the 75 year old man who is unable to retire, and is forced to work full time to pay alimony to his former spouse 25 years after their divorce. Proponents argue that the current laws provide unequal treatment and expectations on the paying spouse, while the spouse receiving the alimony marches on (sometimes with a significant other) without any meaningful adjustment to their own lifestyle.
Even those who don't support the pending legislation would likely agree that for most divorces, both spouses who are educated should have a responsibility to work. Long gone are the days where only one spouse provides the financial support for the family while the other stays at home to raise the children.
While most critics would acknowledge that changes to current laws are necessary, some argue that the proposed changes have taken reform too far, even accusing bill drafters of being misogynistic (since of those receiving alimony, 90% are female). Critics also claim that the passage of the proposed bill in its current form has the potential to create a welfare state for spouses who are either too old or lacking in educational and occupational qualifications to enter the work force. No doubt, critics point to their own friends who have friends with their own horror stories.
Nevertheless, both supporters and critics agree that reform is necessary to bring current laws in line with the realities of the modern family. The question is whether or not a line should be drawn, and if so, where.
Should Florida give needy spouses alimony for a "reasonable period of time" like Rhode Island does? Only to spouses married longer than 10 years as in Texas? No longer than the duration of the marriage as is the case in Utah? How this will end is anyone's guess, but one thing is certain: change is on the way, and for those paying lifelong alimony, or for those staying in failed marriages because it's "cheaper to keep her," change couldn't come soon enough.
Jason Marks is a divorce attorney and partner at Miami-based Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, P.L. and has handled a number of high-profile, high-net worth matrimonial disputes. To contact Jason, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (305) 379-9000.