The Commentary below was published in the Readers View section of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial page on Monday, December 3, 2012. It is followed by the editorial which initiated it.
Gordon E. Finley, Ph.D.
Gordon Finley: Permanent alimony unfair to so many
Thank you for this terrific editorial (“Change permanent alimony,” Nov. 25). If they have worked all their lives, most men in the current retirement generation look forward to comfort in their golden years.
However, if the family courts have assigned them permanent alimony, the golden years are enjoyed only by the ex-wife, as the former husband either is required to keep working or to continue to pay generally exorbitant sums to his ex from whatever he has left in old age.
Permanent alimony today is not fair to men, and soon will be unfair to women when the current gender gaps favoring females in education, occupation, and income kick in and will make them the payers.
Incomprehensibly, while most divorced children and parents can see what is happening, the minds of Florida’s state legislators and family court judges are locked into the model of the 1950′s family, with dad working and mom staying at home. This is about as realistic and relevant as The Flat Earth Society.
Fairness demands alimony only for a short period of readjustment and a re-launching of the recipient. After that, alimony — like the marriage — is over.
Permanent alimony harms society by artificially lowering the re-marriage rate, harms payers by impoverishing them, harms the recipient by mandating indolence and dependency, and continues to harm children by diverting the payer’s money to the former spouse rather than helping to launch them into adulthood.
As per the rules of gender politics — permanent alimony unfairly awards the Gold of the Golden Years to the recipient while simultaneously depriving the children and the payer.
Go for fairness and eliminate permanent alimony.
Gordon E. Finley, Ph.D.,is professor of Psychology Emeritus at Florida International University.
Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Change permanent alimony
Say you married your high school sweetheart, and he or she stayed home to raise the kids. Now 20 years later, you’ve grown apart and gotten divorced.
Along with a fair distribution of your lifetime savings, you’d probably agree that it’s fair to pay alimony for a good number of years to help your former spouse find his or her way in the next chapter of life.
But should you be forced to pay alimony for the rest of your life?
Current law says a judge can make you pay alimony until you die, or until your former spouse remarries, something exes have been known to delay so as not to end the alimony gravy train.
As it stands, “permanent alimony” amounts to a life sentence. It is an outdated law that should be changed in the next session of the Florida Legislature.
Permanent alimony made sense in an era when few women worked outside the home. But it’s hard to hear the stories of people who continue to pay alimony to spouses they divorced long ago without seeing the handcuffs that permanent alimony can create on families old and new.
If you’re the person writing the check and your financial circumstances change, your only recourse is to return to court and ask a judge to modify the original arrangement, a proposition that can take years and cost a fortune in legal fees.
Reform advocates are proposing legislation that would replace permanent alimony with a formula that considers the length of the marriage and a person’s income, but caps alimony payments at 33 percent of an individual’s net income. The proposal also would allow someone to stop paying alimony after they’ve reached retirement age.
While judges should have some discretion, the bill backed by Florida Alimony Reform would require them to consider other forms of alimony — such as rehabilitative alimony — instead of making permanent alimony the go-to choice.
To their credit, state lawmakers have tweaked Florida’s divorce laws in recent years, giving judges alternatives to permanent alimony and a way to provide relief should a spouse’s economic circumstances change.
However, unlike a growing number of states, Florida continues to keep permanent alimony on the books so that judges can impose lifetime payments in cases where debilitating physical ailments or dire economic circumstances from a divorce may warrant it.
But because of the continued wiggle room, recent changes have failed to stem the unfairness and acrimony over long-term divorce payments. Instead, we continue to hear stories of spouses forced into bankruptcy as they approach retirement age, or who can’t re-marry because their new mate’s income will raise the family’s income and result in higher alimony payments.
Florida’s alimony law should be changed to better reflect the changing times.
Last spring, lawmakers considered HB 549, a bill that would have replaced permanent alimony as a first-choice option and overturned several longstanding provisions in the state’s divorce law. The bill sailed through the Florida House, but stalled in the Florida Senate.
The good news is the Legislature soon will get another chance to rectify a missed opportunity.
As lawmakers prepare for next year’s session, they should put the goal of changing permanent alimony front and center.
Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
For more information, please see Florida Alimony Reform: http://www.floridaalimonyreform.com/