Gov. Rick Scott vetoes controversial alimony law

Gov. Rick Scott finally made a decision on Senate Bill 668 Friday.

For the second time in three years Scott decided to veto a controversial alimony proposal. Scott attributed this year’s decision to an even more controversial proposition, one involving custody sharing in divorce cases.

The bill in question would have created guidelines for judges in alimony cases. The proposal would have allowed the courts to reduce alimony payments if there was “a substantial change in circumstance.”

Under those guidelines, if the person paying became unemployed or reached the age to receive full Social Security Benefits, they could possibly have their payments decreased.

The follow-up portion of the bill was what caused the huge uproar. SB 668, passed 24-14 in the Senate and 74-38 in the House, proposed that in divorce cases judges should begin with a “premise” that children should split their time equally with parents.

According to Gov. Scott, judges should consider each family’s unique situation and keep the best interest of the children first.

“Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the children first when determining a parenting plan and time sharing schedule,” Scott said in his letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “This bill has the potential to upend that policy in favor of putting the wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time sharing.”

Initially, SB 668 proposed by the House did not include the 50-50-child custody sharing provision, only changes in alimony payments. The Senate added the child-custody provision, although the House ultimately accepted the revision.

House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, who is gearing up for a run at a Senate seat this fall, was disappointed in Scott’s decision but stated he understood.

Workman believes the change in SB 668 affected how alimony was handled, and not child custody.

“The governor’s message is clear: we must tackle each issue in family law separately rather than lumping them all together,” Workman said. “The system has long been in need of significant (overhaul) and Florida families deserve consistency and fairness in their divorce proceedings.”

An avid supporter of SB 668, Senate budget chief Tom Lee, R-Brandon, was very displeased with the decision of the governor. According to Lee, a former Senate president, there weren’t any clear indication about what provisions would please Scott.

“At this point it is unclear what future family law reform legislation the governor may find acceptable. Today’s veto message is vague and does nothing to further illuminate the governor’s concerns,” Lee wrote in a statement.  “Current law is clear that the best interest of the children remains paramount and it is the primary responsibility of judges to make a determination … Senate Bill 668 does nothing to change the primary role of the court, which is to do what is in the best interest of the children.”

Surely a discussion that will be revisited in the near future, Friday’s ruling dropped the hammer on the dispute for at least another year.