Adding Fuel to the Alimony and Custody Reform Fire

On April 15, 2016, Governor Rick Scott vetoed a controversial bill that would have overhauled the state’s laws related to alimony – essentially ending permanent alimony and instead basing alimony decisions on formulas relating to the length of the marriage and spouses’ incomes. In the area of child custody, the measure would have judges implement what would have amounted to equal time-sharing of children in divorce cases unless there were extenuating circumstances.

Scott’s decision was based heavily on the custody aspect of the bill. In a statement regarding his decision, he expressed concern that the legislation would have an adverse effect on children and had the potential to put the wants of a parent before that of the child.

“Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the children first when determining a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule,” said Scott. “This bill has the potential to upend that policy by creating a premise of equal time sharing. The state’s judges must consider each family’s unique situation and abilities, and put the best interests of the child above all else.”

Scott acknowledged the controversial nature of the measure, saying it evoked passionate reactions from thousands of Floridians. Over the past few weeks, the Governor’s office received more than 11,000 emails and phone calls about the proposal. About 80 percent of those messages were from supporters.

The debate continues with many individuals and organizations issuing statements addressing their position on the outcome of this matter.

“Governor Scott has done the right thing by putting Florida’s children first,” said John Giotis, chairman of the Florida Council for Safe Communities.” Divorce is always a very difficult situation, and this bill would have put its most vulnerable victims, children, at risk. We sincerely hope that, going forward, any reforms to Florida family law will put the best interests of Florida children above all other concerns.”

Following Scott’s veto, Dr. Ned Holstein, founder and board chair of the National Parents Organization, a non-profit that seeks better lives for children through family law reform issued the following statement:

“While National Parents Organization is deeply disappointed in Gov. Rick Scott’s decision, we will continue to support the best interests of children by working to move shared parenting after divorce from the exception to the norm in Florida as well as nationwide. Nevertheless, we look forward to working constructively with the Governor as well as lawmakers nationwide in the future to advance the true best interests of children – a childhood filled with the constant love and support of not just one, but both parents after divorce.”

While there are people on both sides of the fence on this issue, all can agree that family law issues are very delicate, and deeply personal. But regardless of the outcome of the bill – or which side of the fence one is on – this matter added fuel to the alimony and custody reform fire and further confirms the need to update old thinking with new information and consideration of trends in our world.

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