Recently, a bill in Florida was vetoed by Governor Rick Scott that would have reformed the state’s alimony and child custody laws.
Scott’s decision to veto SB 668 is baffling considering it was receiving 3-to-1 support and the legislature passed it by a 2-to-1 margin. His choice is even more confounding after hearing the logic behind it.
“Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the children first when determining a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule,” Scott said in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “This bill has the potential to upend that policy in favor of putting the wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time sharing.”
In actuality, what the law would have done is require judges to start with the premise that children will be granted equal access to each parent. Contrary to what opponents claim, the law does not mandate a 50-50 custody split.
After beginning with the presumption of shared parenting, judges would then consider 20 factors regarding child custody that already exist in Florida law. If the judge decided a different allocation of parenting time was in a child’s best interest, then they would be required to explain why.
Once again, Scott and the bill’s opponents are ignoring mountains of empirical data that shows shared parenting to be in the best interest of families. And by bowing to special interest groups, Scott is providing another frustrating example of why it is so difficult to pass family law statutes that would clearly benefit parents and children.
The shared parenting provision is the reason why the bill was struck down, but the law was billed as an alimony reform act and its failure to pass means the state’s alimony statutes will remain outdated.
As Cordell & Cordell Tampa family law attorney Lisa Karges explains, there are several flaws with the current system.
“Alimony laws as currently written give the courts really broad discretion,” Karges said. “In a marriage of 14 years, for example, the court could reward anywhere between zero alimony to 14 years, and could reward anywhere up to 50 percent of the payor’s total income. Leaving this discretion up to the court means we don’t really have any conformity.”
Florida is also one of several states to still have permanent alimony, meaning the payor makes payments for the rest of their, or their ex-spouse’s, life.
Permanent alimony was necessary in the days when women rarely worked outside the home. But the growing employability of women and the rise of no-fault divorce has led most states to abandon permanent alimony.
SB 668 would have done away with permanent alimony and provided judges with more guidelines to determine both the length and the amount of the payments.
“It would have given the judges and court system a lot more guidance on what they can and can’t do,” Karges said.