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Governor vetoes alimony bill due to child custody provisions

The so-called "Alimony Bill," also known as SB668, was the subject of much controversy in the Florida legislature's most recent session and among members of the public on both sides. In the end, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the most recent attempt at alimony reform by state lawmakers — not because of its impact on alimony, but because of the changes it would have made to child custody laws.

Attempts at alimony reform in our state are nothing new. A bill in 2013 that would have changed existing alimony and divorce settlements retroactively was also vetoed by Scott. That bill was opposed by the attorneys of the Florida Bar's Family Law Section.

It was looking like this latest attempt to reform alimony was going to succeed in both houses. The governor even suggested some language to the bill's sponsors. The Family Law Section was on board. The intention of the legislation was to do away with Florida's system of permanent alimony in favor of one that was based on the length of the marriage and spousal income.

However, a provision regarding child custody changed the trajectory of the legislation. It created a legal premise that parents should share custody of their children equally. Those who object to that premise note that in many cases, both of a child's parents aren't equally capable of caring for him or her.

They noted that the legislation would limit judicial discretion to do what's in the best interest of children — the cornerstone of child custody law. Gov. Scott also noted that principle in his veto message. He said, "This bill has the potential to up-end that policy in favor of putting the wants of a parent before the child's best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing."

Although Republicans in the legislature and the majority of the public seemed to support the legislation, groups including the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women opposed it, as did the Florida Bar's Family Law Section. One former judge called it "bad for kids…bad for women and…bad for Florida."

Likely, those who support alimony reform in Florida will work to keep child custody issues out of future legislation. If you're going through a divorce, you want an attorney who will help make the law, however it reads, work for you.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "Gov. Scott gets rare kudos for vetoing alimony bill," Paula Dockery, April 27, 2016

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