Just before the 4th of July holiday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new bill into law that set off some big fireworks among his divorced constituents—some celebratory and some outraged.
After years of heated controversy and vetoing several similar bills (most recently in 2022), DeSantis has enacted a measure to overhaul alimony in the state.
In the main, SB 1416 does away with permanent alimony.
“The approval drew an outcry from members of the ‘First Wives Advocacy Group,’ a coalition of mostly older women who receive permanent alimony and assert that their lives will be upended without the payments,” CBS News reported.
In a text message, First Wives’ founder Jan Killilea, 63, of Boca Raton, told The News Service of Florida, “On behalf of the thousands of women who our group represents, we are very disappointed in the governor’s decision to sign the alimony-reform bill. We believe by signing it, he has put older women in a situation which will cause financial devastation. The so-called party of ‘family values’ has just contributed to the erosion of the institution of marriage in Florida.”
Conversely, groups like Florida Family Fairness praised the bill, whose members have long pushed for such changes, arguing that permanent alimony orders have prevented them from retiring.
In addition to eliminating permanent alimony, the bill provides a process for ex-spouses who pay alimony to seek modification when ready to retire. The court may terminate or reduce alimony, support, or maintenance payments after considering several factors, including “the age and health” of the payer, the typical age of retirement in their occupation, and their “motivation for retirement and the likelihood of returning to work,” as well as the “economic impact” a change would have on the person currently receiving support.
Proponents of the new law say it simply codifies a 1992 court decision already a guidepost for judges making retirement decisions.
Critics fear the bill will apply to existing settlements, where many women exchanged valuable assets for their permanent alimony agreement.
Camille Fiveash says the new law will impoverish older women across the state. Fiveash, who is in her 60s, and has serious health issues that prevent her from working full time, claims the loss of permanent alimony could cause her to lose everything, including her health coverage. She calls the new law “a death sentence.”
SB 1416 also makes significant changes to how support is calculated. People who divorce after less than three years of marriage will not be eligible for alimony; those married for 20 or more years will be eligible to receive payments for up to 75% of the length of the marriage. Additionally, it allows exes paying alimony to ask the court for a modification if a “supportive relationship exists or has existed” for the receiver in the previous year. Critics say this language is too vague and could be unfairly applied when someone has a temporary roommate or similar short-term help with living expenses.
With sparks flying over Florida’s alimony changes, you may wonder how California’s support laws compare. Here’s a recap:
In California, alimony is called Spousal Support. There are two basic types:
- Temporary: Provides one spouse financial assistance during the divorce process; ends when the judge makes a permanent order.
- Permanent: The judge may award long-term support when the divorce is finalized. It’s important to understand that many marriages end without an award of permanent support. “Permanent” is rarely life-long.
There’s no one-size-fits-all spousal support arrangement. The length and amount will be based on two main factors:
- How long will it take for the spouse who needs support to become self-supporting
- How much money they’ll need to get to that point
The judge will look at the “big picture” and consider numerous variables outlined in California Family Code 4320, including but not limited to:
- The length of the marriage. Support is based on the “reasonable” amount of time for a lower-earning partner to become self-supporting; it’s assumed that the longer you are married, the longer it will take. If you have been married for less than ten years, support will last for half the length of the marriage. For marriages of 10+ years, the law says support can last “as long as the one spouse needs the support and the other spouse can pay.”
- Income. How much money each partner makes, whether or not one earns significantly more.
- The couple’s assets and debts.
- Standard of living. The lifestyle the couple was accustomed to while married, how much money is needed to sustain it, and how much each party can pay toward that standard.
- If the couple has children, can both co-parents work without compromising the children’s best interests—or will someone be the primary caregiver?
- The age and health of both spouses.
- Whether the spouse helped the other in the marriage, supporting their education or career growth
- The ability of each spouse to work—including several factors that impact the ability to get and keep a job, such as:
- Relevant job market
- The need for training or education; and the time and money required.
- Whether the earning capacity of one spouse has been affected by marriage/family
- Evidence of abuse or violence in the marriage
It’s also important to know that spousal support orders can be terminated when there is a legally valid change of circumstances, such as:
- A decrease in income that’s beyond your control
- You’re 65+ years old and ready to retire
- Your ex’s income has increased
- Your ex has remarried
- Note: support orders automatically end if the supported spouse dies before the end of the obligation.
Spousal support can be complex. The skilled family attorneys at SFLG can help you understand your rights and obtain the most favorable possible agreement.
By Debra Schoenberg