July 11, 2022
On Friday, June 24, 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed Senate Bill 1796 (SB 1796), which would have ended a court’s ability to award permanent alimony in Florida. Ultimately, Governor DeSantis decided retroactively changing Floridians’ divorce agreements is unconstitutional. In his veto letter, Governor DeSantis wrote, “If (SB 1796) were to become law and be given retroactive effect as the Legislature intends, it would unconstitutionally impair vested rights under certain preexisting marital settlement agreements.”
During the 2022 Legislative Session, two written measures within SB 1796 were heavily debated: permanent alimony and a 50/50 presumption for time sharing.
The bill sought to do away with permanent alimony and instead called for a formula to determine maximum payments a court could award based on the duration of the marriage. This measure would have allowed spouses married for 20 years or longer to be eligible to receive payments for up to 75 percent of the term of the marriage. A provision of the bill also included a wind-down period, potentially permitting retiring ex-spouses to reduce alimony payments 25 percent per year over four years after providing formal notice to their ex-spouses. Proponents of the bill argued payers would finally be allowed a pathway to retirement, whereas critics of the bill feared the measure would impoverish elderly spouses dependent on their permanent alimony payments, and often having given up assets during the divorce to obtain and live off on permanent alimony. The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar lobbied against the bill, fearful that the retroactive application of the legislation would upend thousands of previous divorce settlements, and create an influx of cases that would overwhelm the court system.
The other heavily debated measure would have created a presumption for 50/50 time-sharing with a divorcing couple’s minor children. Supporters of this presumption contended parents walking into the courtroom would be on equal footing. Opponents feared the equal time sharing presumption would not be in the best interest of children in Florida.
Governor DeSantis finding the bill unconstitutional has ended this most recent effort to terminate permanent alimony. Similar bills have historically met the same fate. In 2021, the Florida Senate objected to a reform bill with the same presumption for equal timesharing. In 2016 and 2014, then Governor Rick Scott vetoed alimony bills on equal time sharing and alimony reform, respectively, also concerned about retroactivity of the proposed legislation.
The retroactive application of the change in the law remains the primary reason for disallowing the termination of permanent alimony in Florida. After a decade of attempted reform, the courts maintain the ability to award bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, and permanent alimony, and timesharing continues to be based on the best interests of the child with no presumption for, or against, equal timesharing for parents.
Contact a member of GrayRobinson's Family Law Team.