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The impact of alimony reform

Many states are considering alimony reform that may have serious consequences for spouses during divorce, particularly women. Most proposed reforms intend to take away the judge's discretion and restrict their awards.

This could make it more difficult for judges to consider criteria that normally supports the continued financial support of another spouse. This includes a spouse who gave up a career to raise the children so that the other spouse to pursue a career, that one spouse is at the peak of their earning power while the other spouse is relatively unemployable or forced to take a low paying job, or one spouse's earning power can replace martial property divided in an average or high asset divorce while the other spouse may have to liquidate this property because of lower earning potential.

The Florida legislature recently passed Senate Bill 718 which was subsequently vetoed by Governor Rick Scott. The proposal redefined the length of short-, mid-and long-term marriages and the amount of spousal support that applies to each term. The default provision for short-term marriages, changed from 11 to seven years, is no alimony. Exceptions would have to be proven in court.

SB 718 also puts the burden on a spouse to prove that they not only need alimony but that the other spouse can afford this support. In conjunction with the new definition of a short-term marriage, it would make alimony awards even more difficult.

If a spouse was previously employed but not presently working, a percentage of the spouse's income would be imputed and reduce and current alimony award. This does not reflect a married couple agreeing that the spouse would put a career on hold to allow the other spouse to reach their maximum earning potential. That spouse would also have to prove by a preponderance of evidence that their income earning ability is lower.

Also, a spouse would have to meet the Social Security Administration's definition of having a disability that means that they cannot perform any work. This does not account for a disability that substantially reduces earning potential. Governor Scott vetoed the bill because it would have applied retroactively. The state legislature is rewriting the bill only to exclude retroactivity and it may be signed into law next year.

Spousal support may be difficult and changing in Florida. An attorney can assist spouses with presenting the best possible case for receiving reasonable alimony.

Source: Forbes, "What divorcing women need to know about alimony 'reform,'" By Jeff Landers, May 17, 2017

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