- Associated Press - Friday, April 15, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Wading once again into an emotionally charged debate, Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Friday vetoed a bill that would have ended permanent alimony payments and would have urged judges to enforce equal time-sharing with children of divorcing parents.

Scott rejected the bill amid an acrimonious campaign that included supporters and opponents of the bill yelling at each other in the lobby of the governor’s office this week. His office received thousands of phone calls after a divided Florida Legislature passed the bill in March.

Three years ago Scott vetoed a similar measures and backers of the bill tried to make changes to win his support this time around by removing portions that were viewed as making the bill retroactive to existing alimony arrangements.

But the Republican governor, who noted in his veto message that he is a father and grandfather, said he was troubled by the proposed child custody changes.

“Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the child first when determining a parent plan,” Scott wrote. “This bill has the potential to up-end 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. Our judges must consider each family’s unique situation and abilities and put the best interests of the child above all else.”

Scott’s decision appeared to catch supporters of the bill off guard.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and one of the main backers of the legislation, called it “quite a surprise” since during this year’s session Scott’s staff did not mention the child-sharing portion of the bill as a problem. Lee, who talked to Scott’s chief of staff about the bill earlier this week, maintained the measure would do nothing to change the primary role of the court.

“At this point it is unclear what future family law reform legislation the governor may find acceptable,” Lee said in a statement. “Today’s veto message is vague and does nothing to further illuminate the governor’s concerns.”

Rep. Ritch Workman, a Melbourne Republican who is running for the state Senate, vowed to bring back the bill and said he would separate the alimony changes and child custody measures into separate bills.

“Florida families deserve consistency and fairness in their divorce proceedings,” Workman said.

Brian Burgess, a former aide to Scott who had recently written an opinion piece urging the veto, praised the governor’s action.

“At his core, Rick Scott is a family values conservative and this was the obvious choice to protect children and their primary caretaker,” Burgess said.

Heather Quick, a family law attorney from Jacksonville, said the governor was correct to focus on the child-custody issues because the switch could have allowed some parents to pay less in child support. She maintained it would have had a “negative impact” on both women and children.

The final bill (SB 668) replaced permanent alimony with formulas based on the length of the marriage and the spouses’ incomes to set the amount and duration of the payments. Those supporting this change called the current system unfair and said they would have to continue to work past retirement age in order to meet their alimony obligations.

But opponents asserted that the wording of the bill would have a dramatic impact on the lives of former spouses, most of them female, who had stayed at home to care for children and could not easily re-enter the workforce.

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