You may have missed it in the tumultuous news cycle following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently vetoed S.B. 1796, an attempted reform of Florida’s divorce law that would have established a presumption that equally sharing time between both parents is in the best interest of children, in addition to eliminating lifetime alimony, setting limits for durational alimony payments based on the length of a marriage, and providing a phase-out option for divorcees making alimony payments when they retire.
In his veto letter, DeSantis explained that his reasoning for vetoing the bill was tied to its potential for retroactive application to existing divorce settlements, an application he said would violate the Florida Constitution. “If CS/CS/SB 1796 were to become law and be given retroactive effect as the Legislature intends, it would unconstitutionally impair vested rights under certain preexisting marital settlement agreements,” he wrote.
While many discussions of the bill centered on the changes to alimony law, several conservatives’ disappointment with the bill’s failure focused on the provision about sharing children equally, as divorce often leads to partially or fully excising fathers from children’s lives. It is well-established that regular father presence in children’s lives greatly reduces risks for all negative life outcomes, including violence, criminality, teen pregnancy and promiscuity, depression and despair, and poverty.
Futhermore, it’s mothers who initiate nearly 70 percent of divorces, the top reasons for which are emotional rather than infidelity or abuse. Studies show that if unhappily married people stick it out in their marriages for five years, almost 80 percent will be happily married just five years later.
Don Hubin of the National Parents Organization told The Federalist he was “really expecting” DeSantis to sign the bill and the veto was a “great disappointment.”
“The National Parents Organization focuses not on the alimony aspect of this bill, but we were very hopeful that the governor would sign this bill to create a presumption of equal parenting in Florida,” he added. Hubin also cited a study concluding that “joint-custody arrangements (whether legal or physical) do not appear, on average, to be harmful to any aspect of children’s well-being, and may in fact be beneficial.”
According to another study Hubin cited, “In the 60 studies published in English in academic journals or in government reports, 34 studies found that JPC [joint physical custody] children had better outcomes on all of the measures of behavioral, emotional, physical, and academic well-being and relationships with parents and grandparents. In 14 studies, JPC children had equal outcomes on some measures and better outcomes on others compared to SPC [sole physical custody] children.”
The bill would still have required courts to determine custody arrangements based on the best interest of the child, but it changed language that suggested “there is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule” to instead say: “Unless otherwise provided in this section or agreed to by the parties, there is a presumption that equal time-sharing of a minor child is in the best interests of the minor child.”
DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw reiterated his concerns about the bill’s constitutionality but, when asked by The Federalist, declined to say whether DeSantis would support a bill that solely established a presumption of 50-50 time-sharing of children. Instead, she pointed to his support of a nearly $70 million bill he signed in April promoting “educational programs, mentorship programs and one-on-one support to encourage responsible and involved fatherhood in Florida.”
Former Florida Gov. Rick Scott, DeSantis’ predecessor and a fellow Republican, vetoed similar bills to S.B. 1796 twice during his tenure. He first vetoed one in 2013 and vetoed another one in 2016, that time specifically citing concerns about the child time-sharing provision.