Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Editorial: Scott should veto alimony changes

Gavel and soundblock on white with soft shadow; iStockphoto.com
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.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Men and boys pose beneath the body of Lige Daniels, a black man, shortly after he was lynched on August 3, 1920, in Center, Texas.  This scene was turned into a postcard depicting the lynching.  The back reads, "He killed Earl's grandma. She was Florence's mother. Give this to Bud. From Aunt Myrtle." Wikimedia Commons
    Trump faces a constitutional process. Thousands of black men faced hate-filled lawless lynch mobs.
  2. Editorial cartoons for Wednesday CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
  3. Scott Israel, former Broward County Sheriff speaks during a news conference in September. A Florida Senate official is recommending that the sheriff, suspended over his handling of shootings at a Parkland high school and the Fort Lauderdale airport, should be reinstated. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    The Florida Senate will vote Wednesday whether to remove or reinstate former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. Facts, not partisan politics, should be the deciding factors.
  4. An ROTC drill team participates in competition.
    Here’s what readers had to say in Wednesday’s letters to the editor.
  5. On Oct. 17, 2019, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney arrives to a news conference, in Washington. On Sunday, Oct. 20, on "Fox News Sunday," after acknowledging the Trump administration held up aid to Ukraine in part to prod the nation to investigate the 2016 elections, Mulvaney defended Trump’s decision to hold an international meeting at his own golf club, although the president has now dropped that plan. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) EVAN VUCCI  |  AP
    Flagrant violations are still wrong, even if made in public. | Catherine Rampell
  6. In this photo released by the White House, President Donald Trump, center right, meets with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, standing left, congressional leadership and others on Oct. 16 in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via AP) SHEALAH CRAIGHEAD  |  AP
    The House speaker is increasingly is acting almost like a prime minister. | Eugene Robinson
  7.  Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal
  8. Medal of Honor recipient Robert Ingram Navy Medical History; Photo by Nick Del Calzo
    About 50 recipients visit the region this week to share their stories and reaffirm their permanent connections.
  9. The bipartisan Lower Health Care Costs Act would impose price controls on doctors. MICHAEL MCCLOSKEY  |  iStockPhoto
    U.S. Senate legislation aims to prevent surprise bills but actually would hurt doctors and patients, a James Madison Institute policy expert writes.
  10. European producers of premium specialty agricultural products like French wine, are facing a U.S. tariff hike, with $7.5 billion duties on a range of European goods approved by the World Trade Organization. DANIEL COLE  |  AP
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement