DeSantis Makes Unprecedented Changes to Alimony

Florida, and Governor DeSantis, just became the only state to eliminate lifetime alimony awards.   Is this a good law or just a political maneuver to gain voter support?

Alimony, often called spousal support, is a payment from one spouse to another after the divorce.   The public policy behind alimony is one spouse earned a career during the marriage that pays much more than the other spouse after the marriage.   Courts see this as an asset (called a “career” asset) that continues to earn income.  Therefore, it should be divided like the other assets.

Proponents of this law see this as a win that allows the paying spouse to retire sooner.  Opponents believe this law allows a spouse to take a greater share of the marital assets, harming those spouses who would receive alimony.  Divorce attorneys are worried this law will chill settlement negotiations.

Alimony Limits Imposed by Florida

Florida ended lifetime alimony orders, regardless of agreement or the desires of the divorcing couple.  At most, alimony can only be ordered for up to 75% of the length of the marriage for couples who have been married 20 years or more. In other words, if a couple divorces after 20 years, the longest alimony term would be 15 years. For shorter-term marriages, alimony will be limited to 5 years, and couples who have been married for less than 3 years will not be eligible for alimony, no matter what.

The law also prevents spouses agreeing to lifetime alimony.   This new law appears to be controlling settlement discussions between consenting adults.

Nevada does not have any rules on the length of alimony like this.  How long a paying spouse should pay spousal support is completely up to the judge assigned to the case.  And Nevada law does not interfere with to spousal support terms.

The Negative Impact For Both Sides

While some see the benefits to a paying spouse, divorce lawyers with experience see it as a roadblock to negotiating divorces.

In the vast majority of divorce cases, the terms of alimony and property division are negotiated, not ordered. More than 90% of divorces settle outside of court, which means most alimony terms are agreed to by the parties.  In a settlement, spouses may agree to pay alimony in exchange for something else.  For example, a spouse might pay more alimony or for a longer period instead of splitting their pension or the equity in a home.

This option no longer exists for couples married less than 3 years and is restricted in longer-term marriages.   Divorce lawyers, who negotiate divorces, believe Florida has gone too far in controlling what grown adults can and cannot agree to.

How Does Lifetime Alimony Work in Las Vegas

Las Vegas Courts have the freedom to make an alimony award that are just and equitable.  “Just and equitable” are the exact words in Nevada’s alimony law.  Lifetime alimony is possible in Nevada  but uncommon.  It was probably uncommon in Florida as well.

Lifetime alimony is only seen when older couples divorce after a very long-term marriage. In these cases, the at-need party may be near retirement age, and entering the workforce would not be practical.  Lifetime alimony (aka permanent spousal support) is sometimes the only way to prevent one party from being left at an unfair financial disadvantage.

Lifetime alimony is never considered lightly It is used in extreme cases of economic disparity, when one party has no hope of attaining financial parity without the long-term support from the other.

Modification of Existing Spousal Support

Florida’s new law took effect on July 1st, 2023.  Most laws only affect future case.  This new law can also affect previous divorce agreements.   Divorces finalized before this date may request a change.  An obligated spouse, from an older divorce, may petition the court to cease or reduce alimony when they want to retire.

This retroactive change is the most shocking part of this law and likely to be challenged.   Tinkering with previous agreements will likely force this law to be argued in the Supreme Court.   Which is probably a motivating factor for DeSantis signing this law.   The publicity from this type of polarizing law and public debate on the courthouse steps will be good for a man trying to win the Republican presidential nomination.

 

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Rock Rocheleau