Kelli Stargel says alimony reform may have to wait until 2018 session

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Alimony overhaul supporters may need to take a break next legislative session, state Sen. Kelli Stargel says.

“I don’t know that I’m willing to take this on again next year,” she told FloridaPolitics.com on Tuesday.

“Then again, a lot can happen between now and the next legislative session. But we need to discuss the merits of a bill and not get into heated rhetoric.”

She backed this year’s bill (SB 668) that Gov. Rick Scott vetoed last week. It would have modified the way Florida judges can award alimony with the intent to eliminate what critics have called “forever alimony.”

The legislation eventually caused “a hollering battle” between about 100 advocates and opponents of the bill outside Scott’s office days before the veto.

Scott’s opposition, however, focused on a 50/50 time-sharing provision in the bill for parents after a divorce. The governor said that had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest.”

Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, had added that language to her alimony bill. It came from another bill pushed by state Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and the outgoing Appropriations chair.

Stargel said she believes that without that time-sharing language Scott would have approved the bill. His veto letter didn’t mention any concerns about the alimony changes in the measure.

The main lesson of this year’s veto is that the two issues – alimony and custody – need to move in separate legislation in the future, she said. Scott vetoed another alimony bill in 2013 because of his concerns about its retroactivity.

Meantime, she said, “the problems are still there” in the current alimony system.

For years, former spouses – mostly men – have said permanent alimony isn’t fair to them. Their exes, usually women, have fought back, saying they shouldn’t be penalized for having trouble re-entering the workforce after staying home for years to raise children.

Stargel’s bill would have allowed courts to reduce alimony payments if there is a “substantial change in circumstances.” That could mean the unemployment of the person paying, or the person being paid reaching the age to receive full Social Security benefits.

Still, no matter what lawmakers propose, there’s sure to be “a ton of people in opposition” on either side, she said.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.