Why alimony reform spells disaster for women

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A blog post from two weeks ago explained why Governor Scott’s veto of alimony reform was a good thing. However, reformists are still attempting to have permanent alimony made a thing of the past. But there are others who disagree with the reformists and believe that alimony reform will have a detrimental effect on families overall.

Most couples who decide that the mother should stay home with the kids do so for several reasons, one of which is so the husband can concentrate on his career. If a woman knows that alimony is no longer an option, she is going to opt to work so she can protect herself in the event of a divorce. This means the husband loses his fulltime at home support. Also, if both work, expenses to take care of the children such as daycare, an au pair or a nanny would have to be included in the household expenses. A wife who stays at home eliminates the need for those things, but that does not mean she does not deserve to be compensated for the work she did and the money she saved the family.

One of the main reasons reformists are calling for the changes is because many men state they are stuck paying alimony payments they can no longer afford. Their payments might have been based on a much higher income than they might have now. This is plausible considering the economic climate. However, in the state of Florida, alimony agreements can be modified provided the former husband can prove that paying the current court-ordered amount is financially impossible. The only time a husband will be put in jail for nonpayment is when he refuses to pay but has the means to do so.

Another reason reform is detrimental is because it allows the husband to walk away from the marriage with no obligation to provide financial support for his former wife, a person who voluntarily stopped working or put a career on hold to take care of the family. Twenty years later, once the kids are grown, you could have a woman who is living in virtual poverty because she has no tangible skills to use in the workplace. Any woman who is facing such a situation because a former spouse won’t pay would be wise to speak to a legal professional experienced in divorce and alimony issues.

Source: Huffington Post, “Alimony Reform Laws Focus on the Exception to the Rule and to the Detriment of the American Family” Deborah S. Chames, Oct. 09, 2013

Opponents of Florida alimony reform recount legislative history

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The debate over permanent alimony in Florida continues, even though months have gone by since the governor vetoed a bill that would have eliminated this type of spousal support. Those who sought reform were obviously upset by the governor’s decision, and some would argue that these supporters were actually making a selfish attempt at eliminating their monthly payments. Opponents of the reform were relieved and made sure to claim that the marketing ploys implemented for the bill’s campaign were disingenuous. According to opponents, the end of permanent alimony would be the end of a level playing field, even though reformers often claimed that eliminating lifetime alimony would actually make things even.

In an opinion piece, an opponent of alimony reform recounted Florida’s recent history with spousal support. After 2006, appellate decisions began restricting awards of alimony that allotted for more than basic needs in marriages that lasted less than 22 years. Lifetime alimony, also known as lifestyle alimony, could be awarded in marriages that lasted longer than 22 years. In 2010, durational alimony was added to the arsenal of family law judges, giving them the ability to award spousal support for a certain amount of time. This is different than bridge-to-gap alimony, which helps a lower-income spouse in the transition from married to single life. Each of these considers the standard of living that spouses kept during the marriage.

There is also rehabilitative alimony, a type of support that helps a spouse acquire new skills to become more attractive to employers, facilitating a return to economic independence. Finally, in 2011, opponents of reform noted that the Florida state legislature began requiring courts to show that no other form of alimony would work just as well before awarding permanent lifetime support. This means that it is now the last resort for courts to award. Modifying the law, in the opinion of the opponents, would be a mistake that would cause financial harm to individuals who opted for spousal support instead of assets during their divorces since no reallocation would take place and the law would be retroactive.

Source: Tampa Tribune, “Alimony measure would kill 30 years of progress” Jerry Reiss, Sep. 06, 2013

The many faces of alimony in the state of Florida

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Alimony plays a big role in divorce; it is usually awarded, though there are cases where it doesn’t happen (a prenuptial agreement can forbid it, for example). Known today as spousal support, the award of alimony is given to the spouse who is in a weaker financial state. In the past, this almost always meant that the woman in a divorce would receive alimony. Since the marriages of generations past had defined roles for each spouse — the man worked, the woman took care of the home — alimony was necessary in a divorce to help the woman out in the wake of the split.

While some marriages are still like this, many Florida couples share joint incomes. Both husband and wife have a job, and they both take care of the kids. They share their duties; their successes; their failures. So when these couples file for divorce, spousal support no longer means that the woman will get spousal support. It is a more fluid system that merely looks at which spouse needs the financial support, given that, without their spouse, they will be in a weak financial state.

Here in Florida, there are four different types of alimony: bridge-the-gap alimony (a short-term payment plan), rehabilitative alimony (payments that go towards re-education or skills acquisition for the receiving spouse), durational alimony (set amount of time for payments) and permanent periodic alimony (provides “necessities of life” granted during marriage to a divorced spouse). Alimony negotiations tend to be complicated — and given the numerous types of alimony, it behooves a divorcing spouse to be prepared for these discussions.

Eliza Coupe, one of the stars of the recently cancelled TV show “Happy Endings,” will need to be prepared after she and her husband — who is requesting alimony from her — filed for divorce.

Source: Daily Mail, “Not such a Happy Ending: Actress Eliza Coupe’s husband files for divorce after her hit show is also cancelled,” July 2, 2013