Guest Commentary: Family attorneys call for veto of ‘harmful’ SB 1796 | News, Sports, Jobs
The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar today finds itself in the position of respectfully asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto Senate Bill 1796, dissolution of marriage. This harmful legislation would apply retroactively, has a serious impact on existing and pending awards of alimony, and affects court ratified marital settlement agreements. The bill also codifies a 50-50 requirement of time-sharing into Florida law.
As family law attorneys, we collectively cannot sit idly by and watch as this policy potentially becomes law, as we believe it would do irreparable damage to the system. At the least, it will result in prolonged litigation, drive the cost of divorce up and down cause backlogs in an already overburdened family court system. At its worst, it will undoubtedly erase the public policy of a level playing field and set up a system that heavily favors one party — typically the bread-wining spouse — while damaging the other unnecessarily. The most endangered population in this scenario are our state’s most venerable citizens — aging senior women who put their careers on hold to raise families while their spouse pursues their dreams or works toward their own career aspirations.
The retroactivity in this legislation is so dangerous, we cannot sound the alarm bells loudly enough, as the proposed legislation will substantively affect thousands of current alimony awards, including those that were created by virtue of a bargained-for contract between two parties. In other words, this act will retroactively change the proverbial “rules of the road” as to the modification standard to be applied in such cases.
The fact is that when a person entered into their alimony agreement, they had an expectation and an assurance that if their former spouse was going to modify their alimony agreement at retirement, it would be based on a legal analysis that considered whether the retirement was legitimate sought and whether retirement will in fact reduce his or her ability to pay the established obligation.
SB 1796 completely changes the law by placing the burden on the recipient spouse to essentially prove they will be destitute without the continued support. This is fundamentally not fair and a substantial change in Florida law and the proposed law will undoubtedly lead to arbitrarily unjust results for thousands of current alimony recipients.
We are just as concerned by a component of the bill that codifies a 50-50 presumption of time-sharing into Florida law. Some have argued that courts are already doing this, but the simple fact is making it “automatically,” does not allow for any discretion by the court, placing a child’s best interest in jeopardy. It’s imperative that judicial discretion continue, in order to protect children from any number of harmful scenarios, including being put under the care of an absentee or even abusive parent.
The bottom line is that this legislation puts our state’s seniors and children at risk. For what? To change the rules of the game in order to allow the more monied spouse to be free of agreed-to alimony at retirement age, regardless of circumstance. There are commonsense approaches to take to address the alimony system; this is not it. The children of our state should not be forced into a “one size fits all” approach without considering what is in a specific child’s best interest.
We urge Gov. DeSantis to veto this bad public policy for the most venerable Floridians — children and seniors.
— Heather Apicella is the chair of the The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar