Alimony reform: It’s a debate that has long existed throughout Florida family law. From South Florida to the panhandle, some divorce lawyers and their clients see permanent, “lifetime” alimony as a working solution that guarantees the recipient – generally the wife – is supported in the future. The system, they say, is in need of no remedy.
Others see it as a broken system that burdens alimony payers unreasonably long after the divorce settlement has been finalized – or their own ability to pay has changed through retirement or change in financial circumstances.
It’s an emotional issue – one with no “right” answer.
What hamstrings the system, though, is the inconsistencies borne of a lack of guidelines that that courts must follow.
One judge may rule in favor of the husband; another judge – given the same set of facts or circumstances – may favor the wife. Without guidelines, the courts have no predictable path to follow, and attorneys and their clients can have no reasonable expectation of the outcome.
It’s unfair to all.
What most experienced family law attorneys agree upon is that some form of revision is necessary to alleviate or avoid inconsistent rulings. The Florida Legislature should consider creation of a set of guidelines that better serve all. Such rules would establish consistency of rulings from one courtroom to the next – from courtrooms in Broward, Miami-Dade or Palm Beach counties, to those in Florida’s panhandle.
Yet, to accommodate each case’s unique circumstances, these guidelines would avoid rigid standards. This would allow judicial discretion to take into account the unique facts of each case.
Some call Florida’s alimony rules a “system that works,” saying to change it would be a travesty. Others say the antiquated, unfair system in need of change.
While alimony reform failed in the legislature this past session, proponents and advocates likely will raise the topic again next year. Hopefully, the sides will agree upon a middle ground that establishes judicial consistency and brings fairness to all.