Statistics show that nearly half of the marriages in the United States end in divorce. Many of those divorces result in one ex-spouse paying alimony, or spousal support, to the other. Alimony laws have been fairly consistent in the U.S. for decades, but the spousal support landscape appears to be changing all over the nation.
Nowhere is that landscape changing more quickly than in Florida. There are currently two bills working their way through the Sunshine State's legislature that, if passed, would dramatically affect the way courts award alimony.
Last week, the Florida House voted overwhelmingly in favor of new legislation that would end "permanent" alimony in favor of a "long-term" spousal support structure. In most states, alimony is regarded as permanent, with one ex-spouse paying the other in perpetuity. The legislation in Florida takes aim at that permanent structure. However, some divorce lawyers wonder if the change outlined in the legislation will truly make an impact.
"The proposed changes are broad and far-reaching in magnitude and could have significant adverse and unintended consequences," explains attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV. "The phrase 'long-term' remains quite vague leaving it up to the court to determine what 'long-term' means and that term can be different in each divorce case."
There are still many questions that need to be answered," stresses Sweet. "The Florida House's bill also allows for changing alimony payments retroactively so that the ex-spouse receiving the money could end up paying some of it back."
Meanwhile, the Florida Senate is working on its own version of alimony reform. While that version also contains the "long-term" change, it would allow the court to consider adultery in determining how much alimony should be paid. The House version removes adultery as a determining factor.
Florida is just one of several states taking up alimony reform. Last September, Massachusetts changed its alimony laws in an attempt to bring the state in line with a society in which economic struggles have become the norm and many women are now the breadwinners in their homes. That state's new alimony laws abolish lifetime spousal support in most cases and establish a formula for alimony based on the length of the marriage. For example, after a 15-year marriage alimony would generally last no longer than 10.5 years.
"Alimony should never force anyone into bankruptcy," suggests Sweet. "Some people have to work two or three jobs just to pay spousal support after a marriage that lasted only a few years. The new Massachusetts laws make things fairer."
New Jersey is also considering alimony reform this year. It's a movement that appears to be sweeping across the country and bears watching in the coming months.