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Alimony & Custody Bill Is One Step from Becoming Law

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New legislation that changes alimony and custody has passed both the Florida Senate and House. The bill now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis. If he signs the bill, the law will go into effect on July 1, 2022.

This bill is the latest attempt to make changes to alimony and custody. Previous attempts were vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Scott.

At Buckmaster & Ellzey, we stay abreast of any legislative and policy changes. We provide our clients with practical and strategic advice based on our up-to-date knowledge and extensive experience.

Law Would Make Significant Changes to Alimony

Should Gov. DeSantis sign the bill into law, there will be several impacts to alimony awards.

The bill retroactively affects all existing alimony awards. When two sides negotiate the terms of a divorce, alimony is one aspect of the overall agreement. No one part of a divorce is a silo. By making this bill retroactive, it disregards the other elements that were considered, such as the division of property and debt.

The bill provides a wind-down period for alimony. A retiring ex-spouse, after providing formal notice, can ask to reduce alimony payments by 25% per year over four years. After those four years, the alimony is terminated. Again, with the retroactive nature of the legislation, this change would be a boon to paying spouses and leave receiving spouses, who are most likely also nearing retirement age, without an income they were expecting and promised in their divorce agreement.

Permanent alimony will be eliminated. In Florida, permanent alimony is paid periodically to provide for the needs of a former spouse so they can maintain the standard of living set forth during the marriage. This type of alimony is generally only awarded in a long-term marriage. For example, one spouse may have taken on more responsibilities in caring for the children and the home. Perhaps, they worked unpaid in support of their spouse’s career or business. Permanent alimony allows these long-term spouses to not be left with no means to support themselves and live as they did when married.

The law also makes changes to the three alimony options, depending on numerous factors:

  • Bridge-The-Gap Alimony. This alimony lasts no more than two years and is designed to help the receiving spouse with legitimate, identifiable short-term needs. The bill leaves this alimony intact.
  • Rehabilitative Alimony. This type of alimony assists the receiving party with acquiring education, training, or work experience necessary to support themselves. A change to this alimony is that it will be limited to no more than five years.
  • Durational Alimony. Durational alimony awards economic assistance for a set period of time. Marriages shorter than three years will be barred from this type of alimony. Durational alimony would be awarded for half the length of marriages that last between three and 10 years; 60% of the length of marriages of between 10 and 20 years; and 75% of marriages that lasted 20 years or more. Durational alimony payments would be limited to the recipient’s “reasonable needs” or 34% of the difference in incomes, whichever is less.

Law Would Call for Equal Timesharing Presumption in Child Custody

The bill was amended to include a previously failed provision that would codify into law an automatic 50-50 presumption of timesharing in child custody cases.

Currently, Florida law favors giving a child “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents. There is no presumption for or against any particular schedule. Parents begin on a level playing field. The child’s needs and the parents’ abilities are examined on an individual basis. Should this bill be signed into law, each custody case begins with a presumption for equal parenting time.

“Establishing a blanket equal timesharing presumption will provide abusive or absentee parents that have never desired to be part of their children’s lives equal access to them which, in turn, will only lead to more litigation not less,” said Sheena Benjamin-Wise, co-chair of The Family Law Section’s Legislative Committee of The Florida Bar.

It's important to note that current law allows for child custody and alimony modifications at a judge’s discretion when significant changes in circumstances warrant.

Fighting for Fair Alimony and Custody for Florida Families

For more than 40 years, we have vigorously advocated for our clients and the best interests of their families. Every marriage is different and so is every divorce. At Buckmaster & Ellzey, we consider our client’s unique needs as we guide them to their post-divorce life.

If you are divorced or considering divorce in the Daytona Beach area, we can explain how the potential law would impact you. Contact us for a free consultation to learn about the changes and how our legal team can help protect your rights. Schedule your consultation by calling (888) 785-6548.