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Alimony, Timesharing and Contingency Fees

Originally published in the September/October 2022 edition of Res Ipsa Loquitur

By the time you read your latest edition of Res Ipsa Loquitor, this will be old news, but on June 24, 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed SB 1796. This bill abolished permanent alimony, gave ex-spouses who pay alimony a “pathway to retirement”, and created a presumption under the law that equal time sharing is in a child’s best interest. This may be old news, but it’s big news, and in my opinion it’s good news. Governor DeSantis gave his reasons for the veto in a letter to Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd saying, “If CS/CS/SB 1796 were to become law and be given retroactive effect as the legislature intends, if would unconstitutionally impair vested rights under certain preexisting marital settlement agreements.”

The bill would have eliminated permanent alimony, limited rehabilitative alimony to 5 years, and barred the awarding of durational alimony for marriages of less than 3 years. The bill called for durational alimony to be awarded for half the length of the marriage for marriages between 3 and 10 years, 60% of the length of marriages between 10 and 20 years, and 75% of marriages over 20 years. The bill also had a payment limit of either “reasonable needs” or 34% of the difference in incomes.

As to timesharing, the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar voiced a concern for pro-se litigants saying “a 50-50 time-share should not be considered in every case” and “when there is an addicted parent and a non-addicted parent they should not equal time share.”

All of these provisions, of course, would have restricted a judge’s discretion. Family law in particular is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Kudos to Governor DeSantis for this. In 2016, Governor Rick Scott vetoed an alimony bill that contained an equal timesharing measure and vetoed a 2012 bill due to retroactive provisions. The most recent bill included both.

Your Support Solution PA v. Belkys Ovalles, 47 Fla. L. Weekly D1580, is a 3rd District case concerning post judgment proceedings to collect past due child support. Ms. Ovalles had signed a contingency fee agreement to pay Support Solutions a percentage of recovery. After obtaining a final judgment of support arrearages, Ms. Ovalles terminated her relationship with Support Solutions and filed a memorandum of law citing Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.5(C)(3)(A) saying contingency fees were void in family law cases. After hearing, the trial court agreed. The 3rd DCA however ruled that 4-1.5(C)(3)(A) does not prohibit a contingency fee in post-judgment support arrearage issues.

Florida Family Law word of the month: nullibiety – Noun. “State of being nowhere.” A good passive-aggressive word to use when frustrated with opposing counsel’s lack of action on a particular task. “Counsel, when there is work to be done, I know I can always count on your nullibiety.”

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