By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida lawmakers approved a bill on Thursday that would eliminate permanent alimony and set limits on the amount of financial support an ex-spouse receives based on the length of a marriage.
The measure, which cleared the Florida House of Representatives 85-31, has already been approved by the state Senate. Republican Governor Rick Scott has not said whether he will sign it.
Florida is among several states where alimony laws are being challenged. Last year Massachusetts abolished most permanent alimony for spouses, and similar legislation has been introduced in Connecticut, Oregon and New Jersey.
Alimony payments can vary widely in the United States, with some states setting explicit guidelines. Others, like Florida, allow judges to determine the amount.
Supporters of the bill argue alimony laws in some states force ex-spouses to make a lifelong financial commitment to their former husbands or wives.
Opponents say alimony judgments should be awarded on a case-by-case basis and free of specific payment guidelines.
The bill would set the duration of alimony payments at half the length of a marriage, although courts could exceed the limit in certain cases.
Under the measure, the spouse seeking alimony would have to demonstrate the need for it except in marriages of 20 years or more, when alimony would be considered justified.
"What this does is provide a fair system for everybody involved," said state Senator Kelli Stargel, who introduced the bill.
"It just puts in place a fair framework so there is consistency in this process, so it won't be based on the quality of your attorney or the luck of the draw with what judge you get," she said.
In addition to the payment guidelines, the bill caps alimony at 25 percent of the paying party's gross income in short-term marriages, 25 percent for mid-term unions and 38 percent for long-term marriages.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Xavier Briand)