Alimony reform being considered in Florida

- Divorces could soon be going by a new set of guidelines, as lawmakers are looking at proposals that include reform to alimony and child custody.

There are several bills currently on the table, which are predominantly aimed at ending permanent alimony and setting minimum and maximum amounts that divorcees are responsible for paying.

"It's not going to have a huge impact on me, but if I can keep anybody else from going through what I've  gone through, then it's well worth it," said Tarie MacMillan.

MacMillan was divorced 16 years ago and was ordered by a judge to pay her ex-husband 65-percent of her income for the rest of her life.

"$7,000 a month, that's the judgment that's against me," she said. "I've adjusted my style of living."

Since then, she's lost a home to foreclosure and filed for bankruptcy.

MacMillan is among the divorcees who have been pleading with lawmakers to pass some kind of alimony reform measure.

"It was just an emotional and financial nightmare that I wouldn't wish on anybody," she said. "Nothing that is this major a change, even though it's the right thing to do, is going to happen overnight."

Several previous versions of alimony reform bills have stalled out. In 2013, a bill passed, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it because it was retroactive.

Opponents of alimony reform, meanwhile, worry that changes could unfairly impact spouses who give up careers to stay at home.

Another issue for this kind of legislation has been attempts to combine it with child custody reform, particularly when it pertains to how much time children spend with their divorced parents.

Some lawmakers want judges to start with the assumption that a 50-50 timeshare is best, or explain why it's not.

Tampa Family Law Attorney Michelle Hutt, however, worries this is an attempt to fix something that isn't broken.

"If you have a household where both parents have fully participated with the children, to the extent that they can, they should get 50-50 time sharing regardless of this new bill," she said.

Hutt said there is one bill in the Senate, which again, combines the two issues.

"It's trying to fix some things, but it may be creating other problems," she said. "You could run into issues where if a parent has not been involved with the children as much and are not aware of [the children's] needs, all of a sudden they are going to have all of these responsibilities thrust upon them. They may not necessarily be able to handle it."

While MacMillan is in favor of child custody timeshare reform, she agrees with Hutt that the two issues should be treated separately.

"It's two totally different things," she said adding she's hopeful something will eventually get passed. "I'm hopeful it'll happen in my lifetime."

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