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Women’s group calls on Rick Scott to reject Tom Lee’s proposed alimony bill

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Although a legislative proposal to put an end to permanent alimony died in the Regular Session this year, it’s coming back in 2016, and a women’s group opposing the proposal is calling on Gov. Rick Scott to put a stop to it if reaches his desk.

UniteWomen.Org FL is opposing SB 250, a bill sponsored by Brandon Republican state Sen. Tom Lee that would require a court to consider certain alimony factors and make specific written findings of fact after making specified determination, including a presumption that nearly equal time-sharing by both parents is in the best interest of the child.

The group is calling on Scott to reject Lee’s measure and form a neutral, bipartisan family law task force to study proposed legislative changes in depth and make recommendations that they contend won’t put Florida’s women and children at risk.

UniteWomen.org state director Jan Lella said, “This bill, like its predecessors, will economically devastate women in traditional marriages who are divorced.”  

She said the bill “is hostile toward women” because in addition to dramatically reducing alimony awards, it will place the burden of litigating for need on the spouse who has little to no income. “Like those sponsored before it, SB 250 presents a one-sided and indefensible refuge for men seeking to punish or abandon the women they married and the children of the marriage in a divorce.”

This will be the third time in four legislative sessions that the bill has come before the Legislature. A similar bill was vetoed in 2013 by Scott. That bill had language that would have allowed it to apply retroactively. Scott said it would have unanticipated results. The premature end to the regular session this year precluded it getting passed by both houses of the Legislature.

Among the provisions included in Lee’s bill:

  • Requiring a judge to “make specific written findings of fact regarding the relevant factors that justify an award of alimony.”
  • Changing the calculations for alimony amounts to make it less easy to get. That includes considering what an ex-spouse could be making if he or she is otherwise “voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.”
  • Excluding undistributed “earnings or gains on retirement accounts” when determining income for alimony purposes.
  • Creating a legal presumption that “approximately equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is … in the (child’s) best interest.”
  • Requiring a judge to consider “the frequency that a parent would likely leave the child in the care of a non-relative … when the other parent would be available and willing to provide care” when deliberating custody time.

UniteWomenOrg. FL contends that if adopted, the  Senate “Family Law Reform” Bill SB2 50 or variations of it would be the most sweeping change to Florida family law in the state’s history – “all with no substantiating economic, sociological or fiscal impact study.” They say that if passed and signed by Scott, SB 250 will make Florida the first state in the nation to force a split 50-50 child time-sharing presumption onto its residents.

The Florida League of Women Voters, the National Organization for Women, the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida and the Florida Breastfeeding Coalition also oppose the Lee bill.

FloridaPolitics.com reporter James Rosica contributed to this article.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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