TALLAHASSEE — Acting on one of the most emotionally charged issues of the 2022 legislative session, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday vetoed a measure that would have overhauled the state’s alimony laws.
DeSantis’ veto marked the third time that supporters of changing the alimony system have successfully shepherded bills through the Legislature only to have them nixed. Former Gov. Rick Scott twice vetoed such legislation, with a standoff over the issue leading to a near-fracas outside Scott’s office in 2016.
The bill this year, in part, would have done away with permanent alimony and set up maximum payments based on the duration of marriage. As in the past, the measure drew emotional debate during the legislative session that ended in March.
One of the most controversial parts of the bill (SB 1796) would have changed the process for modification of alimony when people who have been paying seek to retire. Critics argued the proposal threatened to impoverish older ex-spouses who have been homemakers and depend on the payments.
DeSantis’ veto letter Friday pointed to concerns about the bill allowing ex-spouses to have existing alimony agreements amended.
“If CS/CS/SB 1796 were to become law and be given retroactive effect as the Legislature intends, it would unconstitutionally impair vested rights under certain preexisting marital settlement agreements,” the governor wrote.
Many ex-spouses who appeared before legislative committees to speak against the bill said they agreed to give up assets at the time of their divorces in exchange for permanent alimony awards.
But proponents of the overhaul argued the bill would “modernize” Florida’s alimony laws by making the process more equitable and predictable for divorcing families.
“We are incredibly disappointed by the veto of this much needed bill. Today, Gov. DeSantis chose divorce lawyers over Florida’s families and parents who love their children and who want to be a part of their lives,” Marc Johnson, a Tampa lawyer who is president of the pro-overhaul group Florida Family Fairness, said in a prepared statement.
Under the measure, people married for less than three years would not have been eligible for alimony payments, and those who had been married 20 years or longer would have been eligible to receive payments for up to 75 percent of the terms of the marriage.
Another part of the bill would have required judges to begin with a “presumption” that children should split their time equally between parents. Scott largely pinned his 2016 veto of an alimony bill on a similar child-sharing provision.
The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, which lobbied against the bill, thanked the governor “for understanding the bad precedent the retroactivity” of the measure would have established.
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“If signed into law, this legislation would have upended thousands upon thousands of settlements, backlogging the courts and throwing many Floridians’ lives into turmoil,” the statement, attributed to the section’s chairman, Philip Wartenberg, and immediate past chairwoman, Heather Apicella, said.
People and organizations on both sides of the issue heavily lobbied DeSantis’ office.
The “First Wives Advocacy” group tweeted Friday that it had delivered a petition to DeSantis with more than 2,000 signatures asking for a veto.
As of Friday, the governor’s office had received 5,939 emails in support of the bill and 1,250 in opposition, along with 349 phone calls in favor and 289 against the measure.
When asked for a tally of phone calls and emails about the bill, DeSantis’ office also provided excerpts from messages pleading with the governor for a veto.
A message from Felice Schulaner argued that the alimony changes would primarily hurt women and families.
“The likely consequences are that women will largely be the most impacted, particularly women who divorced after long marriages where they might have put their careers on hold to support their now ex-husbands. How many women will be forced into poverty? How many women will lose their homes?” part of Schulaner’s message said. “I get that your rich male friends might want to divorce their wives for a new model, but the injustice of this is extraordinary.”
In another message, Murielle Fournier wrote that she made an “amicable global settlement” with her ex-husband “in good faith.” Under the agreement, her ex-husband isn’t allowed to modify his payments.
“It’s a contract that I made under the current law. I work and have to rent a room because I can’t afford to rent my own place. I don’t own a home, no retirement plan. No nest egg. This bill will devastate me financially,” she wrote.
By Dara Kam, News Service of Florida