A New Alimony Law Makes Florida Even Less Safe for Women

Florida is essentially urging husbands who pay alimony to closely monitor their ex-wives’ behavior—which is not only invasive, but also physically threatening.


A new Florida law, which took effect July 1, restricts the ability of women (and sometimes men) to collect alimony for the rest of their lives for marriages that ended after July 1. (Catherine McQueen / Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a law last month ending permanent alimony in Florida. The new law has gotten some coverage for how it will hurt women’s retirement security, but shockingly little about a provision that once again makes Florida a dangerous state for women. 

Buried in the new law is a provision mandating that courts end or reduce alimony if the recipient is found to be or have been in a “supportive relationship” with someone outside their family in the last year. 

Reasonable concerns have been raised about the vagueness of the term “supportive relationship,” but more alarming is the way this provision invites ex-spouses to surveil their former partners and control their choices. This is a law meant to limit women’s autonomy. 

Alimony, sometimes known as spousal support or maintenance, is awarded in a divorce when one spouse can show that they have materially depended on the other and will continue to need financial support for some period of time. Because of the gendered way in which couples typically divide labor, with women taking on more unpaid caregiving responsibilities, substantially more women than men receive alimony, with only about 3 percent of alimony awards going to men nationally. Although relatively few marriages end with alimony awards (only about 10 percent), it plays an important role in protecting women who take on the bulk of the unpaid caregiving functions in a marriage.

Florida allows a number of different forms of alimony including “rehabilitative alimony,” which is intended to help the dependent spouse through a period of reentering the labor market and receiving the training needed to do so, and “bridge-the-gap alimony,” which is supposed to help a former spouse with identified, short term needs. 

In almost every state, alimony ends when the recipient remarries, and it is not unusual for state law to allow for the termination of alimony when a recipient cohabitates with a new partner. Twenty-two states have cohabitation provisions in their alimony law, but there is variation by state in how long the cohabitation must last. 

Divorce lawyers across the country already encourage their clients to hire private investigators to gather evidence of cohabitation, in order to reduce or end their alimony obligations. In Washington state, where the law says that alimony can be changed if there is a substantial change in circumstances, one lawyer’s website suggests that clients “collect as much evidence as possible that your ex is cohabitating. This can include photographs of their living arrangements … It’s also helpful to have witness statements from friends and neighbors.” This language is typical on divorce lawyers’ websites, often under headings such as “conduct surveillance.”

In this context, what is frankly dangerous about Florida’s new law is that it requires neither cohabitation nor, more shockingly, an ongoing relationship. In other words, the law encourages people paying alimony to come forward with evidence that their ex-spouse has been in any new relationship at some point in the last year. Florida is essentially urging people paying alimony to closely monitor their ex-spouses behavior in especially close detail—which is not only invasive but also physically threatening. 

Divorce lawyers across the country already encourage their clients to hire private investigators to gather evidence of cohabitation, in order to reduce or end their alimony obligations.

Furthermore, the very fact that Florida law now makes it official policy that anyone receiving alimony can be financially destabilized by a new relationship severely limits women’s autonomy. If any vaguely defined supportive relationship, no matter how long, threatens your income, you might avoid new relationships altogether. What if your ex finds out you are seeing someone and he bought you groceries? Or they took you on a vacation? Is that a supportive relationship? Is your income about to take a major hit? Will you have to drop out of the training program you enrolled in at the end of your marriage? 

Other state courts have sought to make clear that new relationships should not end alimony unless they show some sign of permanence. In defining the terms of a supportive relationship so vaguely and not requiring the relationship to be ongoing, Florida law does the exact opposite. It sends the message that in order to be eligible for any financial support after marriage—whether that is support in service of eventual independence or compensation for years spent supporting the other spouses’ career—women must choose to stay single. And, it gives their exes permission to monitor their behavior. 

It’s not surprising that a governor who has been gleefully taking away women’s autonomy would sign this law. Women continue to have fewer and fewer choices in Florida. 

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Suzanne Kahn is the managing director of research and policy at the Roosevelt Institute.