Most family law practitioners are aware that House Bill 907 is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2010. The law establishes new guidelines in divorce cases for the award of alimony and child support. The alimony changes are effective for awards entered after July 1, 2010 and the child support changes are for awards entered on or after October 1, 2010. The new guidelines still allow great discretion to the court but they clarify some key issues in child support areas and alimony awards based on the length of a marriage.
From the perspective of a previously non-working spouse, some significant changes could be in store. I will focus on two of the major areas where this will be the case.
Child Support Awards: Under the previous guidelines, if one parent cared for the children (defined as overnight stays) more than 60% of the time, they were not subjected to reduction in child support payments. Many of these cases became contentious as parents would “fight for time” with their children so they could get a reduction in their child support payments. Under the new rules, reductions in child support are now warranted when a child spends as few as 20% of their nights with the support-paying parent. According to Eddie Stephens, West Palm Beach Board Certified Family lawyer , “The most significant impact of the new bill is it changes the threshold to trigger the substantial parenting adjustment (gross up) method from 40% of overnights to 20%. The likely outcome is that child support payments from the payor spouse will be reduced.”
Additionally, awards will now require a reduction in support payments when a child reaches the age of majority (18) or graduates from high school (19 at the latest). Previously, if there were multiple children involved, the payor parent would have been required to petition the court for an adjustment when a child reached majority. The new rule eliminates that requirement.
The law also makes the presumption that a previously non-working spouse will have the ability to earn income at either their prior level of employment (within the last 5 years) or if that level cannot be determined, then “income shall be automatically imputed to the parent and there is a rebuttable presumption that the parent has income equivalent to the median income of year-round full-time workers as derived from current population reports or replacement reports published by the United States Bureau of the Census.” (House Bill 907) As a result, even for unemployed or underemployed spouses, awards will need to take into account the ability of that spouse to generate some level of income.
Alimony: The new law makes presumptions about the lengths of a marriage and codifies the various forms of alimony as bridge the gap, rehabilitative, durational and permanent. The law continues to take into account the ability of the payor spouse to make payments and the needs of the recipient spouse for the payments. All financial factors about the marriage will continue to be taken into consideration.
A potential major change is that the presumptions about the length of a marriage (defined as marriage date until the filing of dissolution) are now more clearly defined and marriages that fell into the “gray area” and could not be classified as long-term or short-term, will now be considered as “moderate term.” The law also dictates that durational alimony will not last for a period longer than the length of the marriage unless very exceptional circumstances exist. The new marriage length presumptions are as follows:
Short term marriage: Less than 7 years
Moderate term marriage: 7 years but less than 17 years
Long term marriage: Greater than 17 years
Michael Gora, a board certified family lawyer in Boca Raton makes the point that, “One of the biggest changes in HB 907 is that it allows durational alimony (alimony for a set period of time) to be awarded by the court. Previously, many family law attorneys agreed to durational alimony in settlement but the court never had that tool as an option in litigated cases. The likelihood is that we will see fewer permanent alimony awards in marriages between eleven and sixteen years in length, named ‘gray area marriages’ in Florida appellate decisions.”
Overall, it appears that House Bill 907 will most likely reduce the income that a non-working spouse would have previously expected to receive from their former spouse, especially if there are children involved.
Other excellent sources of information on House Bill 907 can be found on these websites:
Boca/Miami Attorney Samuel Troy
West Palm Beach Attorney Eddie Stephens
2401 PGA Blvd. Suite 280B
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410
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