Divorce law in Florida could soon change in some big ways. It could spell good news for many who pay alimony, and bad news for those who receive it.
Dr. Bernard Perez is a successful eye surgeon in Tampa, but he drives a 26-year-old car, and he had to live in his brother's garage.
"A well-kept garage, but nevertheless his garage," he described.
Perez said a judge awarded his ex-wife 86 percent of his income.
"If it wasn't for the support from family members giving me a helping hand, I would be out on the street," he said.
That 86 percent was overturned on appeal, but that didn't help him.
"Once it was returned to the lower court, the judge not only gave her 86 percent, he bumped it up to 89 percent of my income," Perez said.
Now meet 72-year-old Michael Morgan, an Alzheimer's patient bedridden in southwest Florida. He has to pay $2,100 a month in alimony for the rest of his life to an ex-wife with three degrees.
Their cases caught state lawmakers' attention, and may soon change Florida's divorce law.
A bill advancing through the legislature could limit alimony payments and shorten the amount of time an ex-spouse could receive them.
Judges would also not be allowed to consider adultery when deciding how much to award.
Supporters say we've moved beyond the 50s when husbands were expected to provide, no matter what.
"Obviously women stand to lose ground financially under the new alimony law," said family law attorney Howard Iken.
Iken says the plan is designed to protect struggling spouses who want to retire but can't.
"They've worked a lifetime and are in a situation of paying permanent alimony," Iken said.
Some who oppose the plan say it would let wealthy cheaters off the hook. Others like Jessica Kustron say it would neglect ex-spouses who need support.
"Just to change the way you are living because the other person wants to be selfish and not pay you is very unfair and very hurtful," Kustron said.
Dr. Perez is now battling throat cancer, but he has to keep working.
"We all have to downsize, shouldn't she also be required to downsize?"
He may be an extreme example, but his situation could inspire changes across the board. Brevard County representative Ritch Workman is sponsoring the alimony reform bill. It just passed in a house committee by a vote of 17-to-one.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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