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Gov. Scott vetoes alimony/time-sharing legislation: Family Law Section urged the veto.

Citing a reason raised by the Bar's Family Law Section, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill revising Florida's alimony and child time-sharing laws.

Scott's April 15 veto came only a couple days after supporters and opponents of SB 668 had protested at the Capitol and jammed his office to make their views known.

The Family Law Section worked with legislators and other parties on the bill and supported most of the alimony-related provisions. However, the section opposed the time-sharing parts of the legislation and, for that reason, had urged Scott to veto the bill.

It was those provisions that Scott cited in his veto message.

"This bill's proposed revisions to Florida's alimony and child custody laws have evoked passionate reactions from thousands of Floridians because divorce affects families in many different ways," the governor said. "The one constant, though, is that when a divorce involves a minor child, the needs of the child must come before all others. Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the children first when determining a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule. This bill has the potential to upend that policy in favor of putting the wants of a parent before the child's best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing. Our judges must consider each family's unique situation and abilities and put the best interests of the child above all else."

Scott prefaced that conclusion by observing, "As a husband, father, and grandfather, I understand the importance of family and the sensitivity and passion that comes with the subject of family law. Family law issues are very personal, and nearly every family comes to the court with different circumstances and needs. As such, we must be judicious and carefully consider the long-term and real-life repercussions on Florida families."

The time-sharing part of the bill would have changed the law from a requirement that the judge consider the best interest of the child in deciding custody and time-sharing issues to a "premise" that the best interest of the child would be served by each parent having equal time-sharing.

Family Law Section Chair Maria Gonzalez praised the veto.

"I am very, very pleased. The governor did the right thing. It took courage and thoughtfulness. It's evident he put families and children first," she said. "The basis of his veto, it really capsulized the policy and his thoughtfulness for children."

The section, she said, supports the existing law, adding, "The policy is such a firm clear policy : The interests of children are first."

Scott, in his message, praised the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, in the Senate and Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, and Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, in the House "for their diligent efforts to reform Florida's dissolution of marriage and alimony laws."

Including the timesharing provision in the alimony bill had been a contentious issue during the session. The House passed a bill addressing alimony only, but the Senate, pushed by Lee, included time-sharing. The House, in the closing days of the session, went along, fearing the bill otherwise might die in the rush of last-minute legislating.

The alimony changes would have replaced bridge-the-gap, durational, rehabilitative, and permanent alimony with formulas to determine alimony, and then set factors that judges can use to modify those results.

The "low end" of alimony would have been 0.015 multiplied by the years of marriage and then multiplied by the difference in the monthly gross income of the parties. For the "high end" range, that initial multiplier would have been 0.020. The duration of alimony would have been one fourth the duration of the marriage for the low end and three quarters of the duration for the high end. Marriages up to 20 years would have used the low-end formulas and those 20 years or more would have used the high end.

For marriages of two years or less, there would have been a rebuttable presumption that no alimony would be awarded. Another provision sought to equalize the income for a spouse in a 20-year or longer marriage who gave up a career or substantial economic benefits to devote herself or himself to family care.

Supporters of the bill said it would reduce litigation by creating more certainly about what alimony would likely be when a marriage breaks up. Opponents said it would be unfair to recipient spouses, particularly those in long-term marriages who had given up careers to attend to the needs of children and family.

Gonzalez noted the Family Law Section supported most of the alimony law changes, including the use of formulas to calculate alimony, and said she expects the section will be involved again if alimony and time-sharing return in the 2017 session.

"They should have never been together in one bill. But that's the way it came out," she said. "If both issues come back next year, I would doubt they would come together in the same bill. So far, I have not heard one way or the other."

The section, Gonzalez added, "will never turn away from sitting at the table with any legislator or party who wishes to have a dialogue on any bill affecting families."


By Gary Blankenship

Senior Editor
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Author:Blankenship, Gary
Publication:Florida Bar News
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:May 1, 2016
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