This month, Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoed an alimony reform and child custody bill.
You can read a summary of what Senate Bill 668 proposed here.
Though very controversial, SB 668 was passed by the Florida legislature, 24-14 in the Senate and 74-38 in the House. But this wasn’t the first time Governor Scott had vetoed a bill of this nature that had passed in the legislature.
In May 2013, Governor Scott vetoed SB 718, which would have made Florida the 5th state in the country to abolish permanent alimony. Scott’s main opposition to the bill was that the abolition would apply retroactively. We wrote about Scott’s 2013 veto here.
Despite the omission of any retroactivity in SB 668, it is nevertheless still aimed at reforming alimony and abolishing permanent alimony in Florida.
Additionally, the new law would require judges to work under a presumption that equal custody serves children best. Our summary says this:
Current law provides that the public policy of the state is for each minor to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or divorce. The bill provides instead that the court must begin with the premise that a minor child should spend approximately equal amounts of time with each parent. (emphasis ours)
Those in favor of the bill argue that when permanent alimony was instituted, most women stayed home to raise the children and did not have careers or a college education. But those days are gone, and now it is unfair and unrealistic to force an ex-spouse (most often the man) to pay alimony for life. Regarding the equal custody provisions, proponents argue Governor Scott is ignoring an opportunity to get Florida law up to speed with what current research has revealed, which is that equal time between parents is the best thing for children, outside of an intact home. They cite the well-established disadvantages to children without fathers.
Governor Scott opposed the first bill because abolishing permanent alimony would be retroactive. This time he vetoed the bill on the equal custody issue, arguing the presumption of equal custody does not put the children’s best interests above the parents’ wishes, and the children’s best interests should come first.
It is interesting to note that the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar backed the alimony changes in SB 668, but opposed the custody changes. (source)
The sheer emotion from those on both sides of this debate really emphasizes the need for responsible reform in this area of Florida law.
We will continue to keep you posted on any developments in Florida’s child custody/shared parenting and alimony laws.