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Changing Alimony in Florida Divorce Cases

Feb. 11, 2014

Last year, alimony law in Florida came one governor's veto shy of changing significantly, and it's possible that the Florida State Legislature could be debating the issue this year as well. Last year's bill sought to change the duration and circumstances under which alimony was allowed, and it also addressed timesharing by establishing a legal presumption that equal timesharing should be awarded in the vast majority of cases. While Florida’s legislation got a lot of attention last year for coming so close to passing, it’s part of a slowly-developing national trend examining the issue.

There’s a perception that attorneys oppose changes to alimony laws because of the assumption that attorneys are looking to make more money. However, the reality is that when statutes become more complicated, it creates more work for attorneys — meaning that changes to a law, especially when looking at what almost passed in Florida, would inadvertently result in more billable hours for attorneys navigating a newly-changed (and often, newly-complicated) law.

I know, from my experience helping couples through divorces in Coral Gables and throughout South Florida, that last year’s legislation weighed on those couples contemplating divorce, and that divorce planning encompassed trying to predict what would happen if the law changed.

Fortunately, couples have the option to choose Collaborative Law to help them come to agreements over the alimony question — with the flexibility to agree to either more or less than the current statute allows for. Sometimes, people ask me what my opinion is on alimony reform — and my honest opinion is that I wish more people would pursue Collaborative Law to help them settle alimony issues. By doing that, the alimony law would be somewhat ignored, enabling the parties to agree to what is in their best interest, regardless of what the law says.

I recently helped two couples with divorce settlements that illustrated perfectly why Collaborative Law was their best option.

In one case, the husband wanted to provide alimony for his wife in their divorce case, even though she probably wouldn’t have been awarded alimony had the case gone to trial. However, he had the means to provide a reasonable amount of alimony, and wanted to do so in order to help ease her post-divorce transition — so we drew up an agreement that included those terms.

In the other case, a 22-year marriage was ending, and to provide support for their 9-year-old daughter, the husband agreed to pay 12 years of alimony and to cover college costs for their daughter. Florida law entitled the wife to permanent alimony, and she could have litigated for that, but she instead sought a settlement that provided for their daughter and allowed her to become more independent and self-reliant. When the settlement terms were agreed to, she told me, “Thank you for helping us not fight each other” — a clear indication of how much she wanted to establish a cooperative co-parenting relationship with her soon to be former husband.

No matter how carefully divorce legislation is written, it’s impossible to create standards that satisfy the concerns of each individual divorcing couple. Sometimes, what’s called for in the letter of the law is too much or not enough to adequately address what a divorcing couple really needs. That’s where Collaborative Law is such a powerful tool — each divorcing couple has the flexibility and the go-ahead to create a personalized settlement, not bound to what the law assumes is best.