As Senate Bill 718 – which deals with Florida alimony and child custody reform – looks likely to be signed by Governor Rick Scott, this blog is exploring the various parts of the bill and discussing how they may affect Tampa Bay divorce and family law cases.
One area that this bill changes is the way that marriages are categorized as short-term, moderate-term, and long-term. The reason this matters is because the Florida Statutes prescribes the type, quantity, and duration of alimony that a judge is likely to award depending on the length of the marriage.
Right now (before the changes of Senate Bill 718), the law defines the length of marriage and the presumed appropriate types of alimony (after a judge has determined that one spouse has a need for alimony and the other spouse has the ability to pay) as follows:
- Short-term marriage – Length: less than 7 years. Type of Alimony: “Bridge-the-Gap” or “Rehabilitative” Alimony. Bridge-the-gap alimony lasts for a maximum of 2 years, and its purpose is to help a person transition from married life to single life. Rehabilitative alimony is ordered to help a spouse gain or relearn skills through education or training, and lasts so long as a spouse is receiving the training.
- Moderate-term – Length: at least 7 years but less than 17 years. Type of Alimony: “Durational” Alimony. Durational alimony lasts, at a maximum, for the length of the marriage. So, under current law, if a marriage lasted for 10 years, then a judge can order a spouse to pay durational alimony for up to 10 years.
- Long-term marriage – Length: At least 17 years. Type of Alimony: “Permanent, Periodic” Alimony. This is the type of spousal support that most people think of when they hear the term “alimony.” As the name suggests, this type of alimony lasts until either spouse dies (or until there has been a substantial change in circumstance sufficient for a judge to determine that the alimony needs to be modified or terminated).
Currently, the lengths of marriages are defined from the date of the marriage ceremony to the date of separation, which is usually, but not always, the date that a petition for dissolution of marriage is filed (other dates can be used, such as when the parties stopped living together, or when the parties both agreed that they are no longer fulfilling the role of husband and wife).
Under Senate Bill 718, the categories of marriage are completely redefined:
- “Short term marriage” means a marriage having a duration equal to or less than 11 years, as measured from the date of the marriage to the date of filing the petition for dissolution. There is a presumption that a judge should not award any type of alimony in a short-term marriage.
- “Mid-term marriage” means a marriage having a duration of more than 11 years but less than 20 years, as measured from the date of marriage to the date of filing the petition for dissolution. There is no presumption for or against an award of alimony in a mid-term marriage.
- “Long-term marriage” means a marriage having a duration of 20 years or more, as measured from the date of the marriage to the date of filing the petition for dissolution. There is a presumption that a judge should award alimony in a long-term marriage.
Senate Bill 718 deletes the category of permanent, periodic alimony, and redefines durational alimony so that it presumably lasts only 50% of the length of a marriage (e.g., if a marriage lasted for 20 years, durational alimony would generally only last 10 years).
Additionally, Senate Bill 718 clearly favors bridge-the-gap and rehabilitative alimony over durational for any length of marriage: If a judge orders durational alimony he or she must make written findings that no other form of alimony is appropriate.
If Governor Scott signs Senate Bill 718 (and all signs indicate that he will), these changes in definition will go into effect July 1, 2013.
The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover encourages the use of the interdisciplinary collaborative divorce process when handling issues of alimony.