TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill late Wednesday that would have ended permanent alimony in Florida.
Scott vetoed the measure (SB 718) just four hours before the midnight deadline to approve or veto it. The bill automatically would have become law if Scott had done nothing by then.
If it had become law, Florida would have become the fifth state to abolish permanent alimony.
In a letter to Senate President Don Gaetz, Scott commended bill sponsors Ritch Workman in the House and Kelli Stargel in the Senate -- both Republicans -- and said there are "several forward looking elements of this bill."
But alimony "represents an important remedy for our judiciary to use in providing support to families as they adjust to changes in life circumstances," Scott wrote. "As a husband, father and grandfather, I understand the vital importance of family."
Scott could not "support this legislation because it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce," he wrote. "The retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results."
Florida law "already provides for the adjustment of alimony under the proper circumstances," Scott wrote. "The law also ensures that spouses who have sacrificed their careers to raise a family do not suffer financial catastrophe upon divorce, and that the lower-earning spouse and stay-at-home parent will not be financially punished. Floridians have relied on this system post-divorce and planned their lives accordingly."
The proposed law also would have set limits on the amount of alimony and how long one would receive financial support from an ex-spouse.
The bill would have made it harder to get alimony in short-term marriages. And it would have prevented alimony payments from lasting longer than one-half of the length of the marriage.
It also would have required judges to give divorced parents equal custody of their children absent extraordinary circumstances.
"I'm actually surprised," said Jason Marks, a divorce attorney in Miami, about the veto. The bill had passed the House 85-31, with members of both parties crossing over. The Senate approved it 29-11.
"My assumption is, you haven't heard the last of it," Marks said. "Most family law practitioners will agree that uniformity in determination of alimony is a good thing."
The bill said that in a short-term marriage, defined as less than 11 years, the assumption is that alimony would not be awarded. If alimony were granted, it would not be more than 25 percent of the ex-spouse's gross income.
For marriages that last between 11 and 20 years, there's no assumption either way in the bill, but alimony would not have amounted to more than 35 percent of the ex-spouse's gross income.
And in marriages longer than 20 years, there was an assumption in favor of alimony, though not more than 38 percent of an ex-spouse's gross income.
Moreover, the bill did not automatically end alimony when the paying ex-spouse retired, but that person could have asked a judge to reduce the payment or even end it. The judge could have considered age at retirement, ability to pay alimony and the financial situation of the person receiving alimony.