Florida Bill SB 1796 is Misguided – Every Divorce is Unique

The Florida Legislature recently passed SB 1796, a controversial bill that changes how alimony is implemented and finalized. It is currently sitting on the governor’s desk — waiting to be signed or vetoed.

The bill removes the court’s ability to award permanent alimony for new and previous cases. It sets a duration on payments. Spouses married for three years or less are no longer eligible for alimony, while marriages of 20 years or longer would be eligible to receive payments for up to 75% of the duration of the marriage.

Other Bill Inclusions

The bill also revises the process for modifying alimony when the payer seeks to retire. It requires payers to give a one-year notice indicating their intentions of retiring. It could also stop payments upon retirement, except under certain circumstances.

Additionally, the bill aims to implement a 50-50 time-sharing function for child custody under the “presumption that equal time-sharing is in the best interest of the child.” This provision stems from the Florida House of Representatives House Bill 1395 and treats children as assets to be equally distributed.

How the Bill Will Hurt the Divorce Process

As a family law attorney with more than 25 years of experience, I understand the implications this bill creates if signed into law. Some attorneys have already pushed cases back in anticipation of the bill being signed, creating an early backlog, thereby increasing litigation costs and inundating the judicial system. The bill’s shortsighted and misguided intentions will severely impact families. No divorce agreement is the same; they are unique and deserve to be treated that way.

The alimony portions of the bill have the capability of pulling the rug from under ex-spouses who were promised alimony payments for life, creating an unnecessary crisis for those with years or decades-old divorce agreements.

Additionally, the 50-50 time sharing provision completely ignores the myriad of factors that must be considered for deciding how much time children need with each parent. It also puts pressure on parents seeking less alimony to ensure more time with their children, even though the lower alimony might be detrimental to their livelihood. It can also be used as a tool to lower child-support payments. This one-size-fits-all approach will create more pain for children and families.

Divorce is complex. There is no easy way to navigate it. It takes an emotional and financial toll on both parties involved, but this bill will not alleviate the struggles of divorce proceedings. It will only exacerbate them by attempting to standardize something that varies from case to case.

If you have a divorce agreement in the state of Florida, contact your family law attorney and review all the steps needed to prepare for your alimony agreement to be amended or outright canceled if this bill becomes law.

Rebecca L. Palmer is an Orlando family and marital law attorney and the managing partner of the Rebecca L. Palmer Law Group.

(This article was published in the Orlando Sentinel.)