The proposal generally seeks to set limits on the amount of alimony and how long someone would receive financial support from an ex-spouse, though judges would have the latitude to stray beyond those parameters.
It would make it harder to get alimony in short-term marriages and would generally prevent alimony payments from lasting longer than one-half of the length of the marriage.
Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, the bill's lead sponsor, said the changes create "a fair framework'' that reflect the changing roles in marriages.
"Back in the days of `Father Knows Best,' there was this understanding that one spouse stayed home and one spouse worked,'' she told reporters afterward. "Nowadays, you see all kinds of combinations. You see women making more than men, you see both people working … you see the men staying home.'' She said alimony should be viewed in light of those changes.
The bill (SB 718) cleared the Senate on a 29-11 vote. Similar legislation is pending in the Florida House. Lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to overhaul the alimony system last year.
Opponents in the Senate said the measure would hurt a broad spectrum of women, from those with young children to those whose former spouses are retiring.
In a short-term marriage, defined as less than 11 years, the assumption would be that alimony would not be awarded, Stargel said. If alimony was granted, it generally wouldn't amount to more than 25 percent of the ex-spouse's gross income.
Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis of Miami objected, saying many women who were in short-term marriages are busy raising young children and would be hurt by those conditions.
"If they ever needed alimony, that's when they needed it,'' she said. "And that's when the sum that they get is the least. Now that's not fair, that's not right and that's not taking responsibility.''
Supporters countered that in such situations there would be child support, which wouldn't be affected by the alimony legislation.
Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat, said the provision generally limiting the length of alimony to no more than half the time of the marriage would create hardships for women.
"This could create problems for women who have young children and do not have enough time to acquire skills that help them be self-sufficient,'' she said.
Under the bill, there would be no assumption either way as to whether someone would receive alimony from failed marriages that lasted between 11 and 20 years. If alimony was awarded, it generally wouldn't amount to more than 35 percent of the ex-spouse's gross income.
In long-term marriages, lasting beyond 20 years, there would be an assumption that alimony is warranted, but the amount paid generally wouldn't exceed 38 percent of an ex-spouse's gross income.
The bill wouldn't automatically end alimony when the paying ex-spouse retires, but that person could ask a judge to reduce the payment or even end it, Stargel said. Factors would include the age at retirement, the ability to pay alimony in retirement and the financial situation of the person receiving alimony, she said.
Sobel said those conditions could hurt older alimony recipients.
"The proposed change could automatically cancel alimony payments even if the divorce has only happened one year prior to retirement,'' she said.
Stargel said the bill is intended to bring consistency to the awarding of alimony.
"There was no consistency,'' she said. "You would see people who have been married three and four years who were paying permanent alimony for the rest of their life. You were seeing people who have been married 30 years and got five years of rehabilitative alimony. It was all across the board and there were bad outcomes on all ends.''
*Pictured above is Sen. Kelli Stargel.