Marc D. Johnson
On behalf of thousands who have been exposed to Florida’s family courts, Florida Family Fairness is urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign into law a bill (SB 1796) to modernize Florida’s family laws.
The reasonable bill that passed during the 2022 legislative session is a thoughtful and well-planned approach that would bring Florida’s alimony laws in line with other states, creating predictability and equity in a process that has historically torn families apart.
Unfortunately, the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, which is comprised of divorce lawyers, would have you believe otherwise. A March 19 opinion piece by Heather Apicella, published in the Tallahassee Democrat, urges Gov. DeSantis to veto reasonable family law reform on behalf of Florida’s divorce lawyers.
They are predictably blocking this reform because they are proverbial foxes guarding the henhouse, acting as the self-appointed protectors of vulnerable women and children.
If they truly have the best interests of families at heart, they would support enactment of SB 1796 to provide guidelines, create predictability, reduce contentious litigation and treat mothers and fathers equally.
What is even more difficult to fathom is that the Family Law Section was at the table over the last year with our group and legislators to include the protections they argued were necessary.
What happened? Business happened. Guidelines and predictability reduce litigation and that reduces billable hours.
It’s time to do what is best for Florida families by de-weaponizing children and enacting fair guidelines and predictability to the divorce process, with the byproduct being less litigation and financial destruction to hardworking families.
Apicella argues that an initial legal presumption of equality makes a 50/50 result automatic, but as a practicing lawyer she surely knows that an initial presumption is just that, and the court will always do what is in the best interests of the children.
A presumption is rebuttable, not mandatory, and simply places parents on equal footing initially. What is wrong with two people being equal in the eyes of the law when they walk into court for the first time?
The undeniable benefit of the bill is that it finally eliminates permanent alimony in Florida, creates much needed guidelines and adds predictability to an unpredictable system. Even the Family Law Section relented during the legislative session, when incoming Chair Phillip Wartenberg told legislators that “we believe the time has come to move away from this concept of permanent alimony.”
This year’s bill provides maximum limits to duration and amount of alimony. It provides guidelines for the courts when considering retirement, while protecting vulnerable recipients and those with unmet needs for necessities of life.
Sounding the divorce lawyers’ panic alarm because the bill is allegedly “retroactive” is misleading. The staff attorneys in the House and Senate authored independent opinions that the bill is not retroactive. The bill provides guidelines for the courts to use when considering modifications for already modifiable cases.
It allows alimony payors who have worked hard to retire with dignity, and not be required to work until death. Marital Settlement Agreements and Final Judgments are legally modifiable now, unless expressly non-modifiable, and nothing in this year’s legislation changes that, while still protecting vulnerable recipients and those who negotiated alimony for assets.
We would urge Gov. DeSantis to continue to do what’s best for Florida’s families and sign SB 1796 into law.
Marc D. Johnson is the Chairman of Florida Family Fairness, an organization that is supporting and advocating for legislation that will bring families together by modernizing alimony laws to create fair, uniform, and consistent standards for judgments across the state. He also is the founder of the Tampa-based law firm of Larson Johnson, P.L.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Send letters to the editor (up to 200 words) or Your Turn columns (about 500 words) to [email protected] Please include your address for verification purposes only, and if you send a Your Turn, also include a photo and 1-2 line bio of yourself. You can also submit anonymous Zing!s at Tallahassee.com/Zing. Submissions are published on a space-available basis. All submissions may be edited for content, clarity and length, and may also be published by any part of the USA TODAY NETWORK.