Alimony Award Upheld by Tennessee Court of Appeals

This appeal began with a divorce case in Tennessee. Ultimately, the parties were able to resolve all issues in the divorce except for alimony, which was left for trial before the judge. Only the spouses testified. The Husband argued that Wife should receive less alimony because he believed her to be voluntarily underemployed. Wife, however, stated that she was working as much as possible given her poor health and other conditions. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court granted Wife $1,900 per month in alimony in futuro.

Husband appealed.

Trial courts have broad discretion in determining whether to award spousal support and what amount of support should be ordered.

So, what is alimony in futuro?

Tennessee recognizes four types of alimony: (1) alimony in futuro; (2) alimony in solido; (3) rehabilitative alimony, and (4) transitional alimony.

Tennessee alimony in futuro is a type of long-term support. This form of alimony is appropriate when the economically disadvantaged spouse cannot achieve self-sufficiency and economic rehabilitation is not feasible.

Tennessee alimony in solido is also a type of long-term support, but it differs from alimony in futuro in that it is typically awarded to an economically disadvantaged spouse to adjust the distribution of the marital estate. It is not modifiable, and it does not terminate upon either party’s death or remarriage.

Tennessee rehabilitative alimony is a short-term type of support, intended to enable an economically disadvantaged spouse to obtain job training, education, etc. in order to become self-reliant (or to rehabilitate) after a divorce.

Tennessee transitional alimony is awarded when rehabilitation is unnecessary, but it allows the economically disadvantaged spouse to adjust to the transition to the status of a single person. This type of alimony is appropriate for a person who already has the capacity for self-sufficiency (thus, no need for rehabilitation), but he/she needs financial assistance to adjust to the economic consequences of divorce and losing the other spouse’s income. It is a short-term, bridge the gap support. Tennessee transitional alimony is payable for a definite period of time and may only be modified under certain circumstances.

Tennessee law expresses a preference for rehabilitative or transitional alimony – the two short-term forms of support.

Tennessee courts  must consider a number of factors when determining whether to award spousal support:

(1) Earning capacity, obligations, needs and financial resources of each party – this analysis includes consideration of all income from pension or other types of retirement plans or income from any other source;

(2) The education and training of each party, ability and opportunity of each to secure education and training, and necessity of a party to secure further education or training to improve that party’s earning capacity;

(3) Duration of the parties’ marriage;

(4) Age and mental condition of the parties;

(5) Physical condition of each, including any disability or incapacity;

(6) Whether it would be undesirable for a party to seek employment outside the home because that party is or will be the custodian of a minor child of the marriage;

(7) The separate assets of each party;

(8) How marital property is divided in the divorce;

(9) Standard of living the parties established during the marriage;

(10) The extent to which each has made contributions to the marriage (including financial contributions and contributions of a homemaker) or contributions to the education, training or increased earning power of the other;

(11) Fault of the parties in causing the divorce;

(12) Other factors, including tax consequences to each party.

These factors are set forth in more detail in Tennessee Code Annotated §36-5-121(i).

In this case, the parties were married for 29 years, and at the time of divorce, Wife was 63 years old, and Husband was 60 years old. Wife stopped working outside the home when the parties’ adult children were born except for working part-time at a preschool where the youngest child attended. Husband had a significantly greater earning capacity than Wife, and he had greater opportunity for future earnings. Wife had significant health problems and was receiving Social Security benefits.

Husband had worked as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for 26 years, and he testified that he did not intend to retire at age 63 because he was still in good health.

Wife had a shoulder replacement that resulted in permanent nerve damage, replacement of both hips and a left shoulder replacement surgery. She also had inner ear and balance problems, osteoporosis and benign nodules on her thyroid gland. At the time of divorce, Wife worked part-time as a substitute teacher.

The trial court found that Wife was economically disadvantaged compared to Husband and that Wife could not be rehabilitated.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals found that Wife had demonstrated a financial need and that Husband was financially capable of paying Wife support. Furthermore, the Court noted the long-term duration of the marriage, Wife’s age and poor health, Wife’s small earning capacity, and that Wife had made intangible contributions to the marriage, including her efforts to raise the parties’ two children.

 

Inman v. Inman.

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