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.