This past legislative session marks the fourth time the Florida Legislature has passed an alimony reform bill over the last decade. However, the three previous bills have been vetoed by the Governor (twice by Governor Scott and once by Governor DeSantis). On June 29, 2023, Governor DeSantis signed the alimony reform bill into law, and it took effect on July 1, 2023.
Why did we need alimony reform?
Obviously, the issue of whether alimony reform was needed was hotly contested and the source of intense disagreement. Believe it or not, Florida was in the minority of state jurisdictions that still gave the power to the Family Law Judges to award “permanent alimony.” It is noteworthy that the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, which had been a staunch opponent of alimony reform over the past decade, supported this legislation. Proponents of alimony reform argued that alimony awards were too unpredictable and gave the judges way too much discretion.
How does this new law apply to me if I was divorced before July 1, 2023?
One of the reasons the multiple attempts to reform alimony failed was there was a “retroactive” component to the previous reform bills. This means if you were awarded permanent alimony, those bills would have allowed the judges to strip the recipient of permanent alimony. It would not have been fair for parties who traded assets in negotiating their marital settlement agreements in exchange for permanent alimony to have those awards legislatively taken from them. As a result, our new law is only “prospective.” This means it applies to initial determinations of alimony for cases pending post July 1, 2023 and will not disturb previous awards of permanent alimony.
So what are the big changes to alimony in Florida?
1. The judge in your case is no longer allowed to award “permanent alimony.”
This headline grabs all the attention. Permanent alimony used to be allowed to be awarded in marriages lasting longer than 17 years in duration. But permanent alimony was never completely permanent in the first place. For example, if the person paying the alimony had an involuntary reduction in their salary, they could ask the court to reduce or terminate their alimony obligation or once they achieved reasonable retirement age, they could also ask the judge to reduce or terminate the alimony obligation.
2. The definitions of short, moderate, and long-term marriages have changed.
A short-term marriage was previously between zero and seven years in length; it is now between zero and 10 years. A moderate marriage was previously between seven and 17 years in length; it is now between 10 and 20 years in length. Finally, a long-term marriage is now longer than 20 years; it used to be longer than 17 years.
The judge can award durational alimony for a marriage lasting longer than three years. For a short-term marriage, the duration of the alimony award may not exceed 50% of the length of the marriage; for a moderate length marriage, the duration of the alimony award may not exceed 60% of the length of the marriage. For example, for a marriage of 12 years, the judge can generally award alimony for a length not to exceed 7.2 years. Finally, in a long-term marriage, the judge may only award alimony for a duration not to exceed 75% of the length of the marriage.
3. Alimony awards are limited to “reasonable needs” or 35% of the difference in the spouses’ net incomes – whichever amount is less.
This change is self-explanatory, so we will use an example to drive home the point.
Assume a husband and wife are married for 17.5 years. The husband has the ability to pay alimony and the wife has a need for alimony. The wife’s reasonable needs are $4,000 per month. The husband’s monthly net income is $11,000 and the wife’s monthly net income is $6,000 per month.
This is a moderate length marriage. It used to be a long-term marriage. Permanent alimony previously would have been available in this situation, but now the judge is only allowed to award durational alimony. Because this is a moderate term marriage, the maximum duration the judge may generally award alimony for is 10.5 years (60% of the duration of the marriage). The amount of the alimony to be awarded will be $1,750 per month. This amount is 35% of the difference of the parties’ monthly net incomes and is less than the wife’s monthly reasonable needs.
There are other changes to the alimony law in Florida that should be thoroughly discussed with your attorney so you can understand exactly how they apply to your case. This example demonstrates how the new law aims to bring predictability and certainty to the length and amount of alimony awards. Obviously, the law is new and there are some unanswered questions. In the months to come, the appellate courts will help us answer some of these questions and hopefully future legislative sessions will help work out some kinks. We would love to have the opportunity to help you and your lawyer navigate these issues.