Second Wives Club Fights For Alimony Reform

by Mike Mintz on August 8, 2012 · 6 comments

in Litigation

No–the Second Wives Club is not a spoof of the popular movie from a few years back. Debbie Israel, a math teacher, is the leader of an organization that is currently fighting for alimony reform in Florida. She claims that judges unfairly give lifetime alimony to some first wives—the unfair result occurs when the ex-husband remarries and the second wife’s income is sometimes used to support the first wife.  How does the new, second wife end up paying the first, ex-wife?  According to Florida law, the judge can inspect the finances of the paying ex-spouse (traditionally the husband) if his ex-wife requests more alimony.  If the ex-spouse shows fewer expenses than before because the new, second wife is helping to pay those expenses, the judge can rule that the ex-husband has to pay more alimony, as long as the ex-wife’s request for more money is somehow justified.

In the past, alimony reform has been a cause primarily fought by ex-husbands because they are the ones usually ordered to pay their ex-wives for the rest of their lives, unless she remarries, of course.  The reform recently suffered a setback, however, when a bill they introduced in the Legislature to end permanent alimony did not pass.  The group is undaunted and plan to introduce a new bill at next year’s legislative session.

Debbie Israel has proven adept at getting women to join the alimony reform movement.  She explains how prevailing law is unfair to both men and women.  She has even taken her cause to YouTube and Facebook.

Divorce cases still involve some sort of alimony pay-out, but it is often just for a specific period of time to help the supported spouse become self-supporting.  However, there are still some matrimonial cases where the court decides to award permanent alimony.

According to family law experts, Florida law has become fairer when reforms went into effect last year.  These reforms require judges to find “exceptional circumstances” in order to award permanent alimony if the marriage lasts seven years or less and the standard for awarding permanent alimony changes to clear and convincing evidence for marriages lasting up to seventeen years.  The judges must also conclude that no other alimony award would be “fair and reasonable” before they award permanent alimony.

Legislators justify awarding permanent alimony because they want to protect older homemakers who have been raising families instead of earning a paying salary in a job outside the home.  Without the permanent alimony, they would not have an income.

However, experts point out that notwithstanding the legislature’s good intentions, court rulings vary widely in similar circumstances; they are simply inconsistent.

Israel and others are pushing for more uniformity in these rulings.  Israel argues that awarding permanent alimony hurts the ex-spouses receiving the payment because they do not need to do anything to succeed at a new career.

Israel herself is a divorcee who refused permanent alimony and instead opted for alimony for a set period of time.  Without a time limit on alimony, someone can be” tethered until death” to an ex-spouse.

Israel is so concerned about the current state of Florida alimony awards that she refuses to marry her boyfriend of many years because he has to pay permanent alimony to his ex-wife, and Israel is concerned that if they marry, her salary will go to support the ex-wife, something she is understandably unwilling to do.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dani Pearson wrote onOctober 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Thank you for bringing attention and public awareness to this issue. Permanent alimony is ridiculous, hurts all involved & takes the joy and ability of sharing the fruits of the payor’s hard work (financial resources) with children. The financial resources are depleted by the payee, who in many instances is already in a supportive, cohabitive relationship. Attorneys are making excessive amounts of money as payor’s try to right this, and outcomes are not always favorable, although they appear they should be. Public opinion on the situations I am aware of is “they had a bad attorney”, most public are not aware of the “facts” of these archaic guidelines related to alimony in Florida. Even when a “supportive relationship” is proven, recognized by the judge, alimony is still only reduced insignificantly. And the payor is ordered to pay the attorney fees for both sides….how is that justice? Paying their high priced attorney to fight to keep something they are no longer entitled to, losing, but not being responsible for the bills incurred to move forward with a fight….if they would have been responsible for their own fees, maybe they would not have added up to $12,000! We will never give up the fight until Florida laws related to alimony are updated to reflect today’s socially accepted lifestyles, push to self sufficiency and fiscal responsibility for everyone, not just alimony payor’s.

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Mike Mintz Mike Mintz wrote onAugust 22, 2012 at 10:20 am

Hi Debbie,

Thanks for reading the post. I’m in agreement with you that inconsistent rulings by Florida judges demonstrate the need for reform of permanent alimony. Good luck in your upcoming session and I hope you are successful in your overall fight.

Mike

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Terrance Power wrote onAugust 10, 2012 at 4:46 pm

These ancient laws have to change. Alimony needs to work like Child Support in Florida. Fixed amount, fixed period of time, nothing to argue about.

That’s why Child Support works just fine. Nothing for the family law attorneys to fight (and bill you) for.

Girlfriends or fiancee’s dare not ever marry a lifetime alimony payer in Florida – their income can then be counted to give the first wife a raise in her alimony!

The current draconian laws are anti-family and oppressive to our entire state. With over a 50% divorce rate out there, our lousy laws may not impact your happy marriage, but the odds are good that you brothers, sisters, children, or close friends will one day feel the wrath of these pro-lawyer, anti-family mandates.

And their lives will be destroyed.

Support Alimony Reform in Florida this year!

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Mike Mintz Mike Mintz wrote onAugust 22, 2012 at 10:23 am

“Lifetime alimony payer” is the new scarlet letter in Florida it seems.

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Nannette wrote onAugust 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Please note my husbands was married, his first, her second, no children, she had the degree, he had none, she worked off and on, he worked his way up in the car business, SHE FILED for the divorce in their forty’s and received all the assests and Lifetime Alimony.

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Debbie Leff Israel wrote onAugust 9, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Thank you Mike for bringing this important issue to light. There are a few clarifications/additions I would like to make:
1. Our proposed legislation did indeed pass the Florida House last session by an overwhelming majority, 83-30. Our House sponsor who is very committed to alimony reform, Rep. Ritch Workman, will be sponsoring the bill again. It was never even brought to a vote in the Senate (by last year’s sponsor, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla) where we believe it would have passed based on our headcount. This upcoming session, we will be much more selective when choosing a Senate sponsor so the same problem doesn’t re-occur.
2. It should be noted than many people when getting divorced feel compelled to sign an agreement to pay permanent alimony. I have heard the same story from many of our members. The attorneys, who are trying to help their clients, tell them that should sign the agreement to pay permanent alimony because if they don’t, they will spend many thousands of dollars on a trial during which the judge will most likely order them to pay lifetime alimony. The attorneys are trying to save their clients money and aggravation by offering this advice. There are thousands paying permanent alimony in Florida. There are documented suicides due to the hardships imposed.
3. When the draft of our new bill is available, any reasonable person will see that the proposed legislation is very fair, even for older homemakers. Right now, application of the law is unpredictable and often biased against the breadwinner or higher wage earner. Too many people are forced into bankruptcy while others are given a free pass at self-sufficiency.
4. Last but not least, even if my own fiance’s alimony were to terminate tomorrow, this is a cause I would still work for because I have seen too many people suffering under the current laws and lives unnecessary lost and destroyed. I believe the laws that were created back in the “June Cleaver” days are no longer appropriate in the 21st century.
Debbie Leff Israel

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