advertisement

SSN on Facebook SSN on Twitter SSN on YouTube RSS Feed

130 Comments
Columns

Rick Scott Should be Cautious on Unstudied Alimony “Reforms”

February 25, 2016 - 4:30pm

I have spent almost 25 years studying and writing about alimony as both a law professor and The John F. Schaefer Chair in Matrimonial Law at Michigan State University College of Law.  If I have learned anything during this time, it is that alimony is complex.  Reform can have unintended consequences and so should be the product of a careful, deliberative effort to understand and improve the law rather than a one-sided push to protect alimony payors by kicking recipients off the so-called “alimony gravy train.” 

I am writing to encourage Floridians to urge Florida’s governor to veto Florida Legislature’s Family Law/Alimony Reform bills SB668/HB455 and to establish a task force to study options for alimony reform.  For the sake of the many Florida mothers and grandmothers who have invested in their families rather than a career or job, Florida’s governor should not sign either of these bills into law.  The bills are full of problems, but I’ll limit this op-ed to three critical points:

1.  Why Alimony Matters.  Alimony has an awful reputation, partly because its roots lie in old notions of wives as inevitable dependents.  But contemporary alimony is not about dependency; it is about partnership.   In a recurring script, family life involves teamwork:  one parent prioritizes paid labor while the other (typically a mother) prioritizes family labor.  This sharing enables the couple to enjoy a home and family; it also benefits the primary wage-earner by allowing him to maximize his investment in paid labor.  Meanwhile, the primary caregiver who takes on the lion’s share of family responsibilities incurs invisible costs.  Whether or not she also works for a paycheck, the primary caregiver typically experiences an earning capacity loss as a result of her family labor.  This phenomenon is so well know it has a name:  “the motherhood penalty.”  So long as the marriage remains intact and income is shared, the primary caregiver’s earning capacity losses are invisible.  But if divorce prematurely ends the partnership, these losses are fully exposed.  The longer the marriage, the more likely the primary caregiver’s earning capacity losses will be unrecoverable.

This reality explains why divorce tends to impact women more harshly than men.  When marital property is scant, as it is in most divorces, alimony is the only judicial tool for addressing the earning capacity losses stemming from the marital division of labor.  If marriage is a partnership, if marriage is about sharing the joys and sorrows, the risks and costs and benefits of life together, these losses should be shared.  This is why alimony matters.

2.  Kicking Grandma Off the “Alimony Gravy Train.”  In a significant change from current law, bills SB668/HB455 create several strategic pro-payor presumptions that facilitate downward modification or termination of alimony awards.  These modification presumptions apply to existing alimony orders as well as new ones.  Their purpose and effect is to place the burden of protecting an existing award, and of assuming the financial costs necessary to do so, on the alimony recipient.  As a practical matter, this means that if the alimony recipient cannot come up with the funds to hire an attorney and finance a defense, she will lose her alimony or at least a chunk of it.  This is a foreseeable and likely outcome since alimony recipients are by definition less able to bear the costs of litigation than payors.     

The likelihood that an alimony recipient will be unable to resist a petition to terminate or modify alimony is increased by an alarming provision in SB668/HB455 that, in cases of a payor’s retirement, allows a court to reduce or suspend alimony while a modification petition is pending.  Stripped of alimony, how can the already-financially-strapped recipient come up with the cash necessary to resist termination?  Many cannot and will give up without a fight, even though the payor is asset-rich and the marriage was long.

There is more.  If the alimony recipient does somehow finance a defense to modification, she may be liable for the payor’s attorney fee if her resistance is deemed “unreasonable.”  It’s not much of a leap to suppose that even a mildly risk-averse alimony recipient with few financial resources will be intimidated into giving up her award without a struggle.  This seems to be the plan and it will likely work.   

3.  Why No Task Force?   The egregious outcomes of the modification presumptions of SB668/HB455 may have been overlooked by the Florida Legislature.  Maybe not.  Either way, extensive reform of the economics of divorce should have been undertaken only after careful deliberation and consideration of the impact of reform on various groups—not just on payors, but also on mothers and grandmothers and children, on the state (which may be asked to support the former spouses of asset-rich payors), and on the institution of marriage itself.   Fairness demands that every affected party have a voice.  Some charge that SB668/HB455 is the product of one-sided advocacy by wealthy alimony payors.  A task force inquiry into alimony reform would go far in quelling this concern.  The task force might be composed of men’s rights groups, women’s rights groups, judges, attorneys (those who specialize in high-asset divorces and also those who deal with low-income and middle-income clients), law professors, and other volunteers.   

A task force could prove invaluable in thinking through another portion of the bill—the presumptive guidelines for calculating the amount and duration of an initial alimony award.  Guidelines may increase the consistency and predictability of alimony awards, but guidelines themselves are empty sets:  it is the numbers that populate them that ensure either consistent equity or consistent inequity.  

Several states and municipalities across the nation have drafted alimony guidelines, but the formulae used to populate these guidelines differ dramatically.  Did the Florida Legislature pick the “right” formula?  Did they compare the size of alimony awards under SB668/HB455 with current Florida practice?  If the outcome is different, was this intentional?  Is it an improvement?  Where did the numbers in SB668/HB455 come from?  The guideline formula is, of course, Florida’s choice, but that choice should be informed, deliberate and careful—not hasty and certainly not the result of a special-interest group dedicated to limiting alimony awards.  Grandma deserves better. 

In conclusion, I am personally asking Florida Gov. Rick Scott to please veto SB668/HB455 should either come before him and appoint a bipartisan task force of experts to explore the complex issue of alimony reform.  Florida has this opportunity to raise the bar on thoughtful, studied and equitable reform.  Now is the time to do so.

Cynthia Lee Starnes is a professor of law at Michigan State University’s College of Law where she holds the John F. Schaefer Chair in Matrimonial Law. 

Comments

Hi Cynthia, You talk about a partnership - about how it frees the man from housework, which lets him focus on a paid job, and how it frees the woman from a paid job, which lets her focus on housework. The term you use is "family work" but I think both parents are working for their family, aren't they? So maybe housework is a better term to differentiate what she does from what he does. You say that the time she devotes to her house detracts from his career, which causes her financial loss after the divorce; and that's why alimony is fair. The thing is, after the divorce the man doesn't have anyone taking care of housework anymore, so he needs to take care of it himself. That detracts from his ability to focus on his job, and therefore causes him financial loss. Would it be fair or unfair to compensate him for that loss somehow? Should the woman go to his house and do part of the workhorse for him, so that he still has time to work? Or is there a reason why the woman deserves compensation, but the man doesn't?

I hope and pray the " alimony reform bill" is not signed by the Florida governor because it is exaggerated stories of made up suffering. A.R.B. will only result in more excuses for a wage earning spouse from a long term marriage to avoid fairly splitting assets if the marriage should end. There are many extenuating circumstances that go into this type divorce when long term or permanent alimony is at stake. It is not a matter taken lightly by family law judges. The first time this bill landed on the same governor's desk a few years ago, it was turned down because it was full of greedy changes that even Rick Scott had to denounce and refuse to sign. I believe he said, " his wife and daughters would never speak to him again." And the Republicans were so angry at him! Now, the greedy ones are back, asking to be rewarded for their mean-spirited and selfish desires to skip out on their spouses after a long marriage runs it's course. The spouses who were devoted to them over the years are kicked to the curb. It all comes down to wanting more power during the marriage and money hungry liars. I would like to advise all young girls who are growing up now to avoid marriage at all cost. And especially avoid child bearing. Women don't need a governor to sign off on these changes, that can be easily made without a man's control. We, the women should re-claim our power. We should stand up and denounce marriage at all cost. Child bearing should be cut off if a man is involved as in marriage or paternal parental involvement.. We should, as females, re-claim our worth and refuse to be misled by selfish men with ugly agendas. The very men who will later lose interest in marriage after the children are gone and their careers are going well. If women's worth diminishes with age and time, so be it. We don't need to waste our youth, our beauty, our bodies on a bunch of power hungry, career minded selfish slugs. Instead, we should as women take care of ourselves in the beginning so we don't have to deal with a selfish, controlling wage earning male spouse near the end. If you don't need us later and don't care enough to fairly share assets that both parties have contributed to fully, then don't come a-knocking, ever, cause there won't be any rocking, ever.

The proposed Florida law makes certain changes, going forward, that limit the amount and duration of alimony. It is the result of ten years of debate. It is not retroactive, and so will not help me, or many others, but it is a step in the right direction. Permanent, lifetime alimony must stop. In my view, every negative comment here is from a woman's perspective and points to a man who left for a younger woman. Fair enough. Make him pay. But not every situation is like that. When my business faced difficulties after 9/11 I asked my wife to go back to work. I was stunned at how angry she got. She said she only married so she would never have to work again. She did go back to work, mad, but a girl at her work had just divorced, the two began going out at night, and she convinced my wife that she could divorce, get the house, the car and I would be made to pay her for life. She left me and our daughters for the single life, and I must pay her alimony until the day I die. It could be reduced if I have already retired, but I cannot retire while I pay alimony. Catch 22. She got half the assets, and I used up my half paying alimony during the recession, losing everything.. She now gets her Social Security and half of my small pension. It takes all of my social security and pension to pay the alimony. I have nothing left. I have cancer and kidney failure but have nothing to live on, so I must keep working. Alimony should stop at retirement age. But the proposed law does leave discretion to the judge. It is just that you would be innocent until proven guilty, instead of guilty with no way out. This proposed law may not be perfect, but it is more balanced than the present law, so let's make the change and then appoint a panel to see if other changes are needed. For many, many years, the "family" lawyers blocked any attempt at change that might reduce litigation. Eventually, a growing grassroots effort got legislators to sit and listen. Only after hearing hundreds of witnesses, on both sides, did they act. While it will not help me, I pray it will help those in the future avoid the life sentence I have received.

and it won' help you so why support it? It has too many holes. Would you buy a house where inspector after inspector told you it was incomplete and had fatal flaws. Would you buy it and say, I'll fix it later? No you would not. This law is not balanced at all and greatly increases litigation. Look at your local court house for the number of modifications lined up, just waiting for this law to pass. Payday for the lawyers. They did not hear witnesses from both sides!

Cynthia, you are clearly stuck in the past just like your education. 40% of women are head of households. And I'm sure out of the other 60% many are equal or close incomes to their man. So what percent is left to benefit from these outdated alimony laws? We don't need a study to help us make alimony fair. The issue has been reviewed and adjusted for 5 years. It's time for real reform now.

Cynthia apparently you need to go back to school. Because you didn't learn anything the first 25 years of your study as you say. It is almost never okay to give an individual a lifetime sentence for simply a failed marriage and then award a perfectly healthy ex spouse that was a contributing factor to the failed marriage a permanent lifetime income from the higher paid working spouses income, No matter what the amount is, but especially so since it is usually a very high percentage is that is common like 50 to 80% of the slaves income to their master the recipient. A person with a mere sixth grade education that understands this is more intelligent than you.

Every thing you say in this addenda driven statement has no merit what so ever. I like how someone like you tauts there education and study as if your the number one go to source on this topic. You probably should return to your studies and keep your grossly exaggerated statements to yourself. I've been paying alimony to a woman for nearly as long as your years of study. What you fail to state is how long the current alimony laws have been unfair,unjust and maybe unconstitutional to the people of Florida already. You must have learned nothing in your 25 years of study. Stay out of the affairs of the people of Florida.

The public has no idea how corrupt Florida's divorce courts are.They are still heavily biased against fathers.The citizens involved in divorce courts have no constitutional protections because they operate under courts of equity. Please watch the videos posted here to learn for yourself how corrupt and unfair they are.

The courts are corrupt, but in regards to far much worse issues then this lifetime alimony non sense that seems to be effecting a small portion of these wealthy payors and their second families. How about real family court reform that can help everyone? Enough of those with money "winning" and put the best interests of the children first. Stop all the litigation. This legislation will not stop the issues with the family courts...enforcement and frivolous litigation is a huge problem.

Let's be fair and use a little common sense. this is NOT about kicking Grandma off the gravy train. it is about making the so called family court Judges come up with FAIR judgments. There is NO sense in some of the judgments when a woman is a college graduate and chooses not to work, she is handed a large amount of money each month while the payer can just pay it or if he loses his job and cannot pay, he is jailed. It is nothing more than indentured servitude or slavery. Yes, I said it.. When someone has to pay someone for the rest of his/her life it is slavery!!Then to top it off, many judges order a big life insurance policy for the recipient upon the death of the payer. Many payers are living next to the poverty line because of these kind of orders. Families have to help these payers survive, then when their death occurs, the recipient gets the insurance check.. OMG< what a country this has become!! It is NOT America!!

Your first point - college graduate? Aged 40+ competing against 25 years olds? Who will the employer hire? Going to jail for non-payment? Losing license for non-payment? Happens rarely and only after massive attempts at collection, even for child support payments. Child support can even get cancelled by the state if the pay or whines long enough. Have proof if anyone would care to see. Life insurance? That is ordered as well but rarely enforced. Again, have proof of that as well. Judgments? Splitting of marital assets? I walked away with 2500 and a worthless judgment that I can never collect, how about we fix those issues FIRST!

Rose...

Florida Alimony Reform is not getting rid of long term alimony! Long Term marriages will have long term alimony, and in many cases, alimony will be lifetime for older folks. Reform is looking to make things a bit fairer. Long term alimony monies can and should be used for education, job training and/or retirement savings. This so called "expert" lives in a State without lifetime alimony! Almost 50% of the work force is female, 50% of medical school, law school and other professional schools are female. The "housewife" of yesteryear is no more. Sorry ladies, the gravy train is ending and you know it. Your arguments do not pan out. There is overwhelming support among the people of Florida that lifetime alimony is antiquated and should be abolished. Better to use all of your energy looking forward to a healthy future than complaining about losing your unworked for income.

Why are you for this law it it isn't retroactive? Your information and stats are wrong. Alimony recipients did work for their income - for all the years they took care of the family and his career soared. A family decision.

Most of these ladies work or go to school. Geez, just because they chose with their husbands to give up many years of their careers to devote to their families does not mean they are worthless. life is about choices and we made ours as you did yours. Congratulations on becoming a successful Doctor and being able to earn enough at your age that you can afford to take care of yourself, your children and your ex husband and still get to complain. Not everyone has that luxury. We can still be feminists, mothers and poor!

There are a lot more who CAN'T afford to support themselves, their children and an EX spouse. Key word "EX". Try giving away a third of your TAKE HOME pay. Go ahead, since you think it is no big deal. Take a 1/3 of your pay and just give it to your ex BF, ex husband, stranger on the street or just flush it down the toilet. Either way now YOU have to figure out how to live on that even though YOU were the one who got up at 4:30am every day to go and earn it. You were the one who had to make sure you have a car with gas in it. You have to pack your lunch (because no way you can afford to order out). You are the one who pays FICA taxes so that in 20 years your ex can draw off YOUR social security. Try living on $1500 a month while your ex who you just gave a 1/3 of your pay to lives on $2000 and didn't have to do a darn thing to get it. Between disability payments and alimony some people really do have it made. The takers WILL NEVER GET IT. They are too busy TAKING. And they call ME selfish??? I'm not asking, begging or demanding someone else's money. I just want my own. Shame on me. SMH

Your "guy" pays $800 a month to his ex wife, I guess you both need to up your game. Stop complaining and let your "guy" speak for himself...unless you abuse him as much as you verbally abuse all the first wives??? Tammy you talk a lot, but rarely have anything to say because no one is listening. Ta Ta.

Oh I have plenty to say and plenty of people are listening. Plenty of IMPORTANT people. The wave of change IS happening. No more Permanent alimony and 50/50 child sharing will be the new future!! Soon it will be nationwide. :-) You're the one with no substance.

Do you have to hang out with Floridians online because you've alienated everyone in the state of Maine with your nasty demeanor and horrible personal attacks? I guess you've found your niche with the abusers of FAR!

Typical...you don't like what you hear, so you try to block.

Block who? My FB page has always been private. Only people who are my friends have access. You are not one of those people. But I can assure you that your name has not been mentioned once on my FB page. Unlike you who has bad-mouthed me. Only a coward "calls out" someone on facebook but also has that person blocked so they can't see it. Not understanding what the purpose of that is. Maybe you and Jenny could enlighten me since you both have done it??

This is not Facebook, this is an article and I was referring to the article. Not everything leads back to Facebook, except for your middle school mentality...wait, even my middle schoolers are more mature than the nasty things you and your "friends" do. Don't recall ever calling you out, are you stalking me? You and your "friends" have been blocked for a long time due to the constant harassment of me and my children. I guess you are fine with your behavior and the things you and your "friends" do to children even though you are for 50/50 timesharing...interesting concept considering the way you treat mothers and children. Very twisted! Glad you and your "friends" sent all those posts to the media and legislators, seriously...thank you!

I was unhappily married for 12 years. We had a business together where we both worked full time. I couldn't take what we where doing to our 2 boys with all the fighting and disrespect. We were teaching them that this was the way marriage was supposed to be. That's not the way my parents relationship was. I left the home. Left my ex with all of the assets plus 285,000 in cash. I took 40,000. My payback was I got stuck paying alimony foe the rest of my life! In the tune of 2900.00 they imposed wages on me like I still owned the business. Which I dont. She is a able bodied graduate from the University of Miami and doesn't work. I forced to live on poverty taking home 1100 a month While she is living it up! I understand that there are certain situations where alimony should be permanent. But this one is not. This is why alimony reform is a must!

Try being 60 with arthritis from many years of work in the home. Grandma deserves to live out remaining days with dignity....Marriage is a partnership. Broken marriages due to finding a new love in the workplace? Don't break your vows and you won't have that problem!

Works both ways - Sometimes the PAYOR believed in the marriage vow and the PAYEE did not. What if the PAYOR was committed and faithful to the marriage and the PAYEE decided that it was profitable to destroy the family, the marriage, and the economics of lifelong work by the committed, faithful party, by finding someone else and divorcing because there was financial gain in destroying the family. How did this entire concept of 'no-fault' divorce even start - It is my understanding that it was started by the Womens Rights Movements. Should not the uncommitted party, whether husband or wife, take responsibility for the family destruction - instead of the other way around.

Dear sir. I repeat u cannot be ordered to pay lifetime alimony for twelve years of marriage. It is only awarded to 17 years or more. So before u bend the truth know what the truth is you r bending.

12 years and a judge awarded lifetime alimony? Are you sure about that or did you mediate that? Tell the truth!

How much do you get a month in alimony Carey?

I get NO alimony

Don't bend the truth Carey

Pages

Comments are now closed.

columns
advertisement
advertisement

Chatterbox

advertisement
Live streaming of WBOB Talk Radio, a Sunshine State News Radio Partner.

advertisement
advertisement