Permanent spousal support has been a controversial topic in Florida politics in recent years. As we have previously discussed in this blog, earlier this year the state Legislature passed a bill to limit long-term alimony and allow people paying support under such an order to have the order changed in their favor. That bill was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott, but lawmakers have said they plan to introduce a similar bill during the next legislative session.

As the debate over the necessity of permanent alimony continues in Florida, it may be helpful to see how efforts to reform spousal support in other states have turned out so far.

In Massachusetts, extensive alimony reform went into effect early in 2012. That law ended indefinite spousal support as an option for spouses married for 20 years or fewer. In those cases, alimony can now only be ordered for specific periods of time.

And the payor is off the hook once he or she reaches retirement age, as defined by the Social Security Administration, unless the judge finds that there is good cause to continue the payments. In addition, if the payor can show his or her ex has been living with a new partner for three months, the alimony can be stopped, even if the ex has not remarried.

However, implementation of these changes has proven complicated. Some observers, including attorneys, judges and advocates, say the language in the law is confusing at times. Judges have been accused of misinterpreting the new law or even ignoring it.

While these incidents may eventually work out into a workable, fair system, it is worth keeping in mind that a law must be carefully written to make its intent clear.

Source: The Boston Globe, “New Mass. Alimony law a ‘model’ — but is it working?” Bella English, Oct. 20, 2013