5 Key Takeaways from the Florida Alimony Law Debate

by Howard Iken on July 16, 2013

1. Alimony will be changing – Whether it is this year, next year, or several years after, it is a given that an overhaul will be enacted for alimony in Florida. In the prior decade the alimony statutes received the equivalent of several fresh coats of paint. There was minor tinkering here and there but no major concepts were created or changed. The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar appeared to be mostly happy with alimony law and that attitude was reflected in their legislative priority to keeps things the same.  But in 2012 a grass roots alimony reform effort surfaced that included a key combination of Florida legislators and everyday citizens. What united those people was a variety of personal experiences with alimony judgments based on the prevailing law in the State of Florida.  The 2012 effort did not get far. But in 2013 the reformers pushed the issue all the way to the governor’s desk.  They failed but did not appear willing to go away.  2014 will be a pivotal year for alimony reform. And in any case, it is almost a guarantee that alimony will be changing in the very near future.

2. Man-power will surge in the family law courts – Men have been at a disadvantage in many common family law issues.  Among those issues: custody, child support, and alimony.  The ancient thinking was that men were powerful Neanderthals that owned women, fought off dinosaurs, and occasionally got eaten while defending their family.   More recently, men were considered the breadwinners and had the responsibility to bring home money.  Women were the designated child caregivers, were incapable of earning money, and had to be supported and protected.  The family law courts and legislators responded by favoring women with custody, support, and alimony. Men were seen as a continuing mechanism to ensure the survival of the family. But in the process the rights of men to enjoy a full, happy life was compromised.  Alimony reform debates appear to have changed that premise. There is a recognition that women have money and career power, and that times have completely changed. Because of the fight over alimony reform it is almost assured the balance of power between genders will even out in the near future.

3. Many judges have adjusted their views – Since the alimony reform bill was at the brink of becoming a law, judicial opinions have begun to shift in the same direction as the proposed law. Judges are elected officials but are forbidden from taking part in the traditional political process. But the fact is that public opinion will always be part of judicial elections. The debate over alimony and the shift in public opinion will no-doubt have an effect on the hearts and minds of Florida judges.  Whichever way the alimony debate goes – there is bound to be a moderating effect on judges and their decisions in alimony cases.

4. Legal Strategies are changing and evolving – Proposed laws come and go.  Some pass, some fade away forever. But one thing in common to all proposed laws is that you normally do not see attorneys attending seminars to discuss failed attempts at passing new laws. That has changed with the current alimony debate. The Florida Alimony debate and the 2013-vetoed legislation have spurred dozens of organized discussions, including formal seminars on alimony reform. Attorneys in Florida have been paying significant money and spending lots of time attending educational programs on a failed piece of legislation. That is very unusual.  The fact that attorneys have gathered and discussed implications of alimony reform indicates a general consensus that times will be changing.   Most attorneys are giving several sets of contingent advice to clients.  The advice is time-dependent based on when an alimony case will be filed, and when it may be wrapped up. Because at this point any case going to trial in late 2014 will be subject to any new law.  So clients and attorneys are actively discussing Florida alimony law as it stands today, and as it may stand tomorrow.

5. Florida alimony law will not be simplified – We saved the surprise takeaway for last. Supporters of alimony reform claim the proposed framework will simplify alimony decisions and bring more common sense to court decisions. Opponents of alimony reform claim the proposed framework is too simplistic and takes discretion out of the hands of every judge.  But the reality is that any new law and every extensive rewrite of existing laws create years of court litigation.  It is relatively easy to debate a proposed law, develop a framework, fight through the political process, and pass with new law. But then comes the real work – the multi-year fight to determine exactly what the new law really means. Ask two lawyers the meaning of a sentence and you will get two different answers.  Ask 100 lawyers and you will get 100 different answers.  So like any legal debate, there will be extensive fighting and arguing over the contents of any proposed legislation. And after the legislation is complete there will be extensive fighting and arguing over the meaning of the new legislation.

In the end, the Florida Alimony Law Debate will bring change in the State of Florida. It will bring change that will affect the lives of many Floridians. However, as with everything else legal the end will really be a beginning, and the debate will continue on.

Howard Iken
Howard Iken is an experienced divorce lawyer who also specializes in bankruptcy and criminal law. Howard is currently the Managing Attorney at Ayo and Iken PLC, who helps those in need of Tampa divorce attorneys.
Howard Iken

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