Francheska Sabatini: Fix Alimony to Protect Families From Predatory Attorneys

Litigious alimony laws benefit predatory divorce attorneys at the expense of Florida families.

I practiced family law for several years and witnessed first-hand how Florida’s broken alimony system hurts families, costing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to litigate protracted court cases.

A lot of discussion occurs over the need to improve Florida’s legal climate. I believe fixing alimony belongs in that conversation. Today’s system of vague guidelines for alimony determinations produces dramatically different rulings across not just the state itself, but also within the same jurisdictions.

Overbroad judicial discretion means more litigation and higher court costs for ex-spouses and the children who depend on them. This depletes marital assets that could be equitably distributed between the parties or used to fund alimony payments, as well as results in years of legal proceedings and an adversarial climate that causes more acrimony between former spouses.

Further, it creates incentives for gamesmanship that further draw out litigation, increase court costs, and prevent ex-spouses from moving on with their lives. I saw numerous cases where alimony recipients hid supportive relationships with new partners from judges to prevent their alimony payments from terminating. I also saw the opposite – alimony payors would not remarry for fear their new spouses’ income would be used as a basis for increasing payments to their former spouses.  Who benefits from such games? Certainly not the families paying the legal bills.

Many families cannot afford long and costly legal battles and are left on the brink of financial ruin. In the course of this process, divorce attorneys often weaponize the parties’ children over timesharing, seeking any leverage possible to secure more advantageous settlements for their clients.

After all that time and expense, you could be ordered to pay alimony for life to your ex-spouse. Your family has been destroyed. Your finances have been ruined. You can never retire. But the divorce attorneys will have profited over the fight itself.

Proponents of the status quo argue that you can always seek to modify your alimony payments. Sure, you can. But that process costs thousands of dollars, could take years in court, and because of too much judicial discretion, does not mean a judge will rule in your favor. The only certainty regarding modification petitions is more legal bills.

These broken laws have real consequences. I saw this process result in women breadwinners being forever tied to abusive ex-husbands with orders of permanent alimony. I saw children weaponized during the process to gain a financial advantage. I saw seniors unable to retire because they would suffer wage garnishment or even jail time for failing to make their alimony payments.

Fortunately, legislation advancing in Tallahassee would fix Florida’s alimony laws and offer needed protections for families.

Families should be treated fairly and consistently, no matter where they live in Florida. Alimony reform seeks to curb litigation and bring consistency by giving judges clearer guidelines for determining the amount and duration of alimony awards. When lawyers have less room to haggle, judges can make decisions faster and the parties can spend less money on the proceedings. Guidelines also establish defined parameters that the parties can evaluate to amicably resolve cases.

Fixing Florida’s alimony laws also means stopping the games. The post-divorce healing process cannot be complete until both parties are able to move on. Supportive relationships should terminate alimony and new spouses should not be required to pay alimony to their partner’s former spouse.

Requiring judges to begin with a presumption of equal timesharing will prevent lawyers from using children as negotiating leverage.

As a matter of fairness, alimony reform ends lifetime awards in favor of durational support for up to 50 percent the length of the marriage and gives payors the right to retire, not just recipients.

Because alimony reform is designed to reduce litigation and court costs, the legislation does not retroactively affect settled agreements, but it will level the playing field moving forward.

Making Florida’s alimony laws fairer, clearer, and more consistent will protect the finances of already vulnerable families and help the healing process begin more quickly. It is about time we put the needs of families above the bottom lines of divorce attorneys.

 

Francheska Sabatini is an attorney from Mt. Dora.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Outstanding summary of the issue! Please support HB843 and SB1832! It’s a good bill that will protect both parties and is fair.

    It won’t help all of us who have already been victimized by a broken and corrupt system, but it will allow our children and grandchildren to get married and raise families without being financially plundered by predatory litigating divorce attorneys and their cronies.

  2. This is so well explained. From personal experience, this touches the real struggles of alimony in divorce and the urgent need to have reform. Thanks!

  3. This is so true. I got divorced last year , after a 12 year marriage my ex was awarded lifetime alimony. I spent 20 years on active duty and she was awarded lifting retirement from that as well. My ex wife testified that her career was rehabilitated after I paid 7 years of temporary alimony. She makes near 100k a year and with what I pay her she makes well over 140k year. I work 3 jobs to try and keep up but I am falling behind. Her predator attorney ran up 7 years worth of legal fees. Well over 100k and actually got the case moved from Orange County Florida to Lee county because they could not get lifetime alimony in Orange County. Her attorney had communication with the judge and it was proven she lied to court. I had to file bankruptcy but even that has done little to help me. This article is spot on. The predatory family law attorneys in the state of Florida are nothing less than demons and some day hopefully they will get what is coming to them on the other side. I read story after story about people feeling there is no other choice but to take there own life to escape. How many more have to die before these predators are held accountable. How many more soldiers have have to take there own life after fighting for this country only to be raped by the corrupt family courts in Florida. The Florida bar is a arm of the Florida Supreme Court. Why is it they are allowed to control our legislators? Why are they allowed to lobby and spend millions of dollars to keep the racket going ? In Florida we are all most to the point of not even having a legislative branch. It has become the the Florida Bar branch of government. They even have special family law attorneys in Florida sanctioned by the bar to ruin military members pensions. It’s the old get half of that for life and get life time alimony on top. It’s sick but that is what Florida has become.

    • We can thank Rick Scott for not signing the bill last time it passed the house and senate. Hopefully one day he will get his. And lets hope and pray it does not happen again.

  4. What an outstanding article. This explains clearly why this is such an important legislative item. HB 843 addresses these issues in a fair way. Alimony should be a tool to help both parties transition to complete independence, and should not be a lifestyle. Alimony should be limited in duration and amount to enable to the recipient to have time to get training, experience, and education as needed to become financially independent in a reasonable period if time. Like child support, Alimony should have an end date, and should not require endless and expensive litigation. The opponents of this legislation fall into two camps: 1. The Family law attorneys seeing a lucrative income stream going away, and 2. the recipients of permanent alimony who like things the way they are – where they are not required to do anything to be self supporting. Time for change Florida!

  5. The new law should be applied retroactively. The people burdened with this unfair law have been hurt the most.

    A person is not financially responsible for a child after 18 years. Therefore, why should a person be burdened with an ex-spouse for 20, 30 or 40 years or more??

  6. What about marriages that ended in divorce with no children? Why should an ex-spouse pay permanent alimony to a person that did NOT give up a career to raise children or did NOT put a spouse through school?

    The law should be retroactive! How many more payers of permanent alimony need to commit suicide before this madness stops? Who cares about the people this insane law hurts most??

  7. I couldn’t agree with this article more. This is long overdue, as already broken families are torn apart even further, with an unending burden for the payer with no relief in site – short of maybe/possibly getting a reduction at best in retirement, but only after paying tens of thousands to hopefully get there with no guarantee. The saddest part of all is the devastating affect it has on the children. They didn’t divorce anybody, but end up caught in the quagmire of unending bitterness due to what has been a life sentence on a parent they dearly love. How can that ever be a tolerable thing?

  8. I strongly support the passage of legislation to abolish permanent alimony. At the conclusion of a divorce both parties should walk away in an equitable manner. Prior to the marriage they were individuals with separate lives…..during marriage they merged….and upon divorce the decree should allow them to return to their separate lives. One should not leave the marriage permanently tethered to the other. One should not reap the benefits of a free lifetime of alimony, while the other spends a lifetime wearing a financial noose. The current permanent alimony law does just that. The current law rewards one spouse at the expense of the other. It took two people to make the marriage, and two people to make the divorce. In Florida, a no-fault divorce state, the permanent alimony provision certainly runs counter…..putting blame and pointing fault to the person forced to make lifetime alimony payments. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It needs to change!

  9. PROTECTING MYSELF FROM HIS EX
    By Elvina Apollonovna Kallett
    Her email began,
    “I am in receipt of your letter, and appreciate your desire to now come to an amicable settlement regarding our divorce and ensuing alimony litigation. I too would like to arrive at an amicable and fair settlement. That said, your letter did contain some errors, and omit information. You stated your only income in the future would be social security (that suggests you will not look for further employment) and that too is incorrect, as you will receive severance and you are in full possession of your 401k plans and IRAs (this also does not take into account your wife’s assets or possible income, and I am advised these would become relevant should we have to proceed with further modification litigation.)
    When I mentioned your 401k and your IRA’s I was well aware that at the time of our divorce, those became yours. They are however income and asset sources to you now, and will all become pertinent moving forward. I understand (and please confirm with your attorney) that all assets – marital and non-marital – are considered by the court for both alimony and attorney’s fees.”
    My husband was paying lifetime alimony and the email was from his former spouse. He had been laid off from work in October 2016. With no income coming in, his savings dwindling and no work prospects on the horizon, continuing to pay her monthly alimony was impossible. He offered the ex his entire severance package in the hope she would accept it as a final settlement and let him out of his lifetime alimony obligation. He had been fully supporting and paying her since he moved out of the marital home in 2004 after a 20 year marriage. She amassed sufficient savings during that time to pay off her home, return to school and complete her master’s degree in 2015. Doing so substantially changed her own circumstances and now, better able to support herself, she no longer needed lifetime alimony. Instead, she and her attorney threatened me as they were actually now fixated on my own personal finances and assets.
    This was appallingly offensive and absurd. I’m certainly not the one who was married to this individual and I’m certainly not the one who divorced her. I met and married my husband many years after his divorce. My assets weren’t a consideration when alimony was originally determined. Why should they be a consideration now? Shockingly, current Florida divorce law deems it relevant and considers subsequent spouses’ assets and properties fair game.
    Anyone who marries a lifetime alimony payor in the State of Florida is taking a huge risk with their own finances. Marriage to an alimony payor jeopardizes the new spouse’s own income, assets, and property because it’s all considered tappable resources for paying a former spouse and their attorney. If people were aware of this, why in the world would anybody ever marry an alimony payor in this state? How do you think these threatening emails from his ex made me feel? How would anyone else in my position feel?
    Thus, since I was threatened by my husband’s ex-wife and her attorney, I determined my only recourse to protect my privacy and my assets was an immediate strategic divorce. Just as some real estate investors utilized strategic bankruptcies to protect themselves from mortgage defaults, I would use the divorce laws to protect my assets. I would shield myself from all prying into my personal business by making myself a non-party. Any of their future attempts to harass me with demands to answer financial disclosures, participate in depositions, and seek my private information were not acceptable. My finances are private and certainly not open to her, her attorney, or anyone else to know anything about. If I had to divorce my husband to protect myself, then that was the price we had to pay. Sadly, even though the love between my husband and me was unquestionable, divorcing him was what I was forced to do to maintain my privacy. Ironically, not only did she ruin her own marriage when she committed adultery with other women which forced my husband to divorce her, she could now also take credit for causing our divorce as well.
    There is a lot wrong with the current divorce laws in Florida. It’s little wonder that so many second marriages also end in divorce, but maybe not for the reasons people think. It’s outrageous that marriage to an alimony payor puts at risk a new spouse’s assets, income, and properties if the alimony payor loses their job and income and thereby their ability to pay their alimony obligation. No subsequent spouse should ever be expected to make up the shortfall. It is not the new spouse’s obligation or responsibility. By taking the initiative and divorcing my husband, I protected myself from his ex, her predatory attorney, and Florida’s outdated and unjust laws. There was no way I would allow myself to be taken advantage of nor participate in such an injustice on me by all these opportunists.

    It’s time to modernize the current antiquated family laws for fairness and consistency to all parties and to protect families.

  10. Lifetime alimony penalizes those who work the hardest in favor of rewarding those who chose not to be productive. Florida is only one on 6 states which still have lifetime alimony
    Reform will not eliminate alimony. Reform will make it much fairer, with predictable guidelines. Rehabilitative alimony , the best type for both sides, can become the norm if alimony reform passes this year. I thank you for this clearly stated and truthful article.

  11. The broken FL laws need to be fixed for so many reasons! End permanent alimony now. Bring FL up to date with the rest of the nation. Please support this bill.

  12. In a no-fault divorce state such as Florida, it is fundamentally wrong to make one party financially responsible for supporting the other when a marriage ends. Both parties should be expected to support themselves, regardless of the life they shared while married or the duration of that marriage. Alimony should be at best durational and act as bridge to self-sufficiency.
    The current laws allow too much discretion to the courts and lack of established guidelines leads to widely varying outcomes depending on the courtroom where the divorce is adjudicated. One judge might award no alimony at all while another orders permanent lifetime support. The new bills propose to fix this by instituting guidelines.
    Regarding ability of alimony payors to retire, nobody should have to work forever just to support an ex-spouse from whom they divorced years or even decades earlier. This amounts to involuntary servitude and slavery was abolished in this country over 150 years ago.

  13. Before my divorce we had money in the bank. After the divorce I filed bankruptcy and I moved into my mothers two bedroom house. I slept on the couch and my daughters had the spare bedroom. At times I did not have a car and I used my mothers car to get around. My ex-wife and her attorney wanted $6,500/month. This was more than my net income. We were married 15 years and she was awarded lifetime alimony. So why should I have to pay 30+ years of alimony? Alimony is hard to get terminated, currently if you retire it is not terminated automatically. Why should my ex-wife get married or get a better paying job if I have to pay her alimony? Why should my new spouse income be included in the financial documents and be used to help pay for an increase in alimony?

    The attorneys are definitely not looking for the best interest of Florida families, in my experience they are there to inflate the billing hours.

  14. Well stated Ms. Sabatini. The outright lies, deceit, and misrepresentation of the current system must end. Not only that but, the victims of Florida’s alimony laws must be given their citizenship back. Once you’re hooked into lifetime alimony, you are effectively no longer a citizen with rights or legal protections.

  15. Lifetime alimony is so outdated! My husband pays his ex wife , who has a good job an lives with her boyfriend, but she knows how to play the system , keeping the house in her name ! It is ridiculous all the kids are in their 20s an 30s. , no need for her to keep getting permanent alimony . Florida is where we live and it is ridiculous. It needs to include all permanent alimony, past , present an future !! Thank you

  16. abolish this outdated concept of paying a lifetime salary that wasn’t earned. We need termination of alimony at retirement.

  17. Excellent article that demonstrates what is fundamentally wrong with current law regarding alimony…. accurately describes the experiences of current payors…. and spotlights the reasons why the Family Law Section of the Bar so vehemently opposes reform.
    Alimony reform is long overdue in Florida.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this article.

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