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Florida alimony laws outdated, say advocates for reform

According to one reform activist, Florida's laws are preventing her from being happily married to her fiancé. Florida laws allow for a judge to award a spouse permanent alimony in a divorce settlement. The reason the Florida resident has not yet married her beloved is because, she says, her income could be used to support her fiancé's ex-wife and she doesn't want her income used in that way. The activist for reform, who teaches college math, said the intention of the alimony laws should be to support families and children, not prevent families from forming in the first place.

Under current Florida state law, if an ex-spouse petitions the court to have her alimony payments increased a judge will review the income and expenses of the spouse responsible for paying the alimony. If that spouse is remarried and has fewer expenses due to a second income from his or her current spouse, then the judge can determine he or she can pay more in alimony, according to one Florida family law attorney.

In the majority of cases involving alimony in the United States today, the payments are determined for a preset time period in order to help one spouse become self-sufficient. Usually alimony may involve retraining to obtain suitable work and assist with household expenses during the process, according to some family law practitioners. Alimony statistics are not tracked by the state like child support is.

The chairman of the family law section of the Florida bar thought it was safe to say the number of lifetime alimony cases is relatively small and only exists in a small number of cases. Last summer saw some reforms to Florida law take effect that require judges to look for "documented exceptional circumstances" in order to award a spouse permanent alimony in cases involving a marriage of less than seven years. In cases involving marriages up to 17 years in length there must be convincing and clear evidence justifying an award of permanent alimony.

Additionally, a judge must find that no other form of alimony would be reasonable or fair. What is unfair, said one Florida family law attorney is that judges' rulings vary greatly in divorce cases with oftentimes similar circumstances. People who want to reform Florida's alimony laws said they are looking for more consistency and uniformity in application of the law.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "'Second wives' activist fights lifelong alimony," Donna Gehrke-White, July 13, 2013

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