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NCFM Advisor Gordon Finley, Ph.D, Letter: Columnist’s conclusion on alimony bill wrong, published in Florida Today

April 18, 2013

gordon finleyLetter: Columnist’s conclusion on alimony bill wrong

The letter below was published in Florida Today on Wednesday, 4/17/13 and is followed by the column to which it responded.

Gordon E. Finley, Ph.D.

Letter: Columnist’s conclusion on alimony bill wrong

While I applaud columnist Paul Flemming for a sound review of the issues in Saturday’s “Alimony bill will be great — for lawyers,” his bottom-line conclusion is dead wrong.

The proposed state alimony reform bill will reduce litigation, not increase litigation. A bit of history. For years, the divorce vultures (a.k.a., the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar) have conned the Florida Legislature into writing divorce legislation that maximizes litigation and thus maximizes their income. In part, they have accomplished this by maximizing judicial discretion, which in practice means endless conflict and, of course, endless paid litigation.

No matter what they may say, the divorce vultures are interested only in one thing — maximizing their income.

I can irrefutably demonstrate this point with Flemming’s own words: “Thomas Duggar, an attorney in Tallahassee and a member of the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section, said last week at a Tallahassee Bar Association meeting that the section has a $100,000 war chest to sway public opinion against the legislation.”

Do your readers honestly believe they are spending all this money so they will lose income? The divorce vultures get the message in terms of what alimony reform will cost them — and save the children, fathers and mothers of divorce. I regret Mr. Flemming did not do the same.

Full Disclosure: I am an alimony-paying divorced father of two young adult daughters and retired university divorce researcher with multiple research and scholarly publications on this topic.


Paul Flemming: Alimony bill will be great – for lawyers

The Florida Legislature is certain to pass a bill to end the permanent award of alimony.
The Senate passed its version April 4. A House version is teed up for a floor vote. The two bills don’t match now, but there’s no doubt they will in all important aspects.
A battle has already been joined, but it’s now heating up with competing websites, dueling petitions and the volume cranked up in the public arena. Thomas Duggar, an attorney in Tallahassee and a member of the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section, said last week at a Tallahassee Bar Association meeting that the section has a $100,000 war chest to sway public opinion against the legislation.
In this case, it’s aimed at a “public” of one, Gov. Rick Scott. Seeing the writing on the legislative wall, opponents are now focused on a gubernatorial veto as the last hope to stop the proposal.
Rep. Ritch Workman, a Melbourne Republican, is the House sponsor. He’s divorced (though soon to be married again; he proposed earlier this month at the conclusion of a Finance & Tax Committee meeting he chairs), but Workman is quick to point out he doesn’t pay alimony and is on amicable terms with his ex-wife.
Instead, Workman said a poker buddy filled him in on the inequities of Florida’s alimony system.
“Florida is a no-fault divorce state, but we are an at-fault alimony state,” Workman said. “Alimony was used for decades to punish the spouse the judge felt was wrong in the marriage, the divorce.”
Workman cites anecdotes in support of his bill — a doctor friend who pays 89 percent of his income to his ex-wife, and, for good measure, a woman who, after a short marriage, is required to hand over 60 percent of her salary to her ex-spouse. The bill prohibits alimony orders that leave the alimony payee with less income than the recipient.
For years, Florida Alimony Reform — a group that goes to great pains to emphasize that women, too, are subject to unjust alimony awards, but only succeeds in highlighting that it’s mostly disgruntled ex-husbands — has pushed for changes. This is its year.
The proposals raise the burdens of proof in alimony cases and shift them to the alimony-receiving spouse, create a presumption against any alimony in marriages of 11 or fewer years, cap the amounts of alimony based on the length of marriage and force durational alimony at half the length of the marriage.
Opponents say the changes threaten to leave wronged and long-supportive spouses destitute, fail to allow judges the discretion to find justice in individual cases and are based on arguments that are exaggerated or wrong.
“After my divorce, I pursued an education and job opportunities, but had to start from scratch,” according to “Judy” on the Family Law Section’s website. “Today, my ex-husband earns over three times what I do, has had a 40-year head start on saving for retirement and receives double the Social Security that I do.”
The debate is awash in horror stories on both sides.
“Leave equitable distribution as the sole consequence of divorce and maybe we’ll find wives being a bit more financially responsible hereafter, too, instead of running the debt (and their attorneys fees they expect their husband will have to pay) up and then counting on alimony ever after so they can continue to sit on their butts and financially punish their ex-husband for life!” according to a petition comment left on Family Law Reforms website and attributed to Tampa attorney James Kramer.
Ah, there’s the rub.
I’m not convinced one way or the other by the combatants on this issue.
I am absolutely convinced of only one thing. This legislation is an employment and enrichment bill for attorneys.
Proponents argue against “permanent” alimony, but such a thing doesn’t really exist unless both parties specifically agree to it in their divorce settlement. Alimony is subject to modification in Florida.
The new caps connected to length of marriage that are included in the legislation mean, if the bill is signed into law, that all alimony cases can be reviewed under the new standards. The march to the courthouse will be immediate.
Let’s not clog Florida’s overburdened courts. Let’s not line the pockets of attorneys. Let’s not give a bunch of divorced folks who couldn’t manage to be friendly enough with each other to dissolve their marriages in a just and equitable way the satisfaction of a Legislature-sanctioned do-over.
“The Truth About Florida Alimony” (opponents’ website) is that “To Promote Respect, Independence and Equity for the Parties to Divorce” (proponents’ web motto), the best thing we can do is not pass another law but encourage all our divorcing friends to act in kindness and fairness.
Flemming is the policy and politics editor for the Tallahassee Democrat and Contact him at, 850-671-6550 or follow him on Twitter at @PaulFlemming.


Alimony should be sensible.

Alimony should be fair and help all involved.

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