1. Opinion

Editorial: Scott should veto alimony changes

Gavel and soundblock on white with soft shadow;
Published Mar. 21, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott should veto the Legislature's latest attempt to overhaul Florida's divorce laws. Lawmakers last week sent legislation to the governor that lumps alimony reform with a new, misguided formula for determining child custody arrangements. The state's divorce policies may be ripe for reform, but these changes miss the mark on too many important fronts.

The legislation, SB 668, would fundamentally alter the way alimony is distributed in Florida. It sets up a formula for alimony payments based on the amount of income earned by each spouse and the length of the marriage. It also provides a way to end permanent alimony payments, terminating them when a receiving spouse gets remarried and allowing for review when a paying spouse retires or reaches full Social Security age. Spouses in marriages that end before the couple's two-year anniversary are ineligible to receive alimony. There is an argument to be made that these changes would offer more predictability for couples who are divorcing.

But one of the more controversial parts of the legislation would allow alimony agreements to be renegotiated if the recipient's income rises by 10 percent. That trigger is far too low for spouses whose primary work had been child-rearing. That group is primarily women, and the governor should stand up for them.

The most disturbing aspect of the legislation is its impact on child custody rules. Under the new legislation, there would be a "premise" that divorced parents would spend equal amounts of time parenting their children. The 50-50 split would occur unless a judge decides to make an adjustment by weighing 20 factors already outlined in state law, including concerns about a parent's mental and physical health or moral fitness. This provision could make it too easy for judges who don't want to do the hard work of investigating individual family situations to rely on one-size-fits all terms. Children in sensitive custody battles deserve better than that.

These issues involving alimony and child custody have percolated in the Legislature for more than a decade. Then-Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, directed in 2005 that an amendment be added to a family court bill to require judges to provide equal contact with both parents when it is in the best interest of the child. The effort failed. Three years ago, Lee — who was divorced and locked in a child custody fight with his former wife at the time — added a similar child-sharing amendment to a bill that the Legislature passed. Scott vetoed the bill, finding that making changes to alimony that would have been retroactive could produce "unfair, unanticipated results.''

This year's legislation, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is more tempered than previous versions. It is not retroactive when dealing with children but unclear about the impact on existing alimony payments. The alimony changes also remain too punitive toward mothers who have focused on raising children, and judicial discretion still has been limited when it comes to what is best for children in shared custody arrangements.

Scott should get his veto pen ready again.

Correction: This editorial has been edited to reflect the following correction: Florida law lists 20 factors judges weigh when deciding child custody issues in divorce cases. A March 14 editorial cited a different number of factors.


  1.  Bill Day --
  2. Jomari DeLeon, is pictured at at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida August 7, 2019. Jomari is three years into a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. She sold 48 tablets of prescription tablets over two days to an undercover officer. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Even Oklahoma, a state not famous for progressive reform, has done more than Florida to fix sentencing inequities, Carl Hiaasen writes.
  3. In this photo from June 28, 2019, a Coalition for Life St. Louis member waves to a Planned Parenthood staff member. ROBERT COHEN  |  AP
    Florida law already requires that parents be notified prior to an abortion, writes senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida.
  4. Students say the Pledge of Allegiance as thousands gather at a candlelight vigil for several students killed in the Saugus High School shooting in Central Park, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif. CAROLYN COLE  |  AP
    We doctors treat diseases, but what of the epidemic of gun violence, writes a St. Petersburg doctor.
  5. Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association members protest outside of the school board building in Tampa in December 2017. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
  6. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of what is believed to be a former African-American cemetery next to the parking lot of Frank Crum Staffing located at 100 S. Missouri Ave. in Clearwater.  The empty lot is part of the former Clearwater Heights neighborhood which featured Bethany CME church and Williams Elementary School.   Photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.  JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times
    Tampa Bay’s lost cemeteries are part of our collective history.
  7. A business man and woman holding a sign depicting their political party preference. SHARON DOMINICK  |
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s letters to the editor.
  8. Leonard Pitts undefined
    Don’t wall ourselves off from contradictory opinions, writes Leonard Pitts.
  9. President Donald Trump, right, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani pose for photographs as Giuliani arrives at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Nov. 2016 in Bedminster, N.J.
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
  10. (left to right) Nupar Godbole, medical student at USF, and Tiffany Damm, medical student at UCF, take part in a papaya workshop at the University of South Florida Medical Students for Choice Second Annual Florida Regional Conference held in the Morsani College of Medicine on February 24, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. Some of the instruments used in abortions, like the manual vacuum aspirator, are used in an exercise with a papaya, to simulate an abortion. MONICA HERNDON  |  Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.