Alimony Laws in Tennessee
By Bernadette A. Safrath
Alimony is a monetary award paid to the financially weaker spouse after a divorce. Tennessee courts can award one of several types of alimony available, based on a number of factors that generally include duration of marriage, age and mental health of the receiving spouse, and education and potential need for training for the receiving spouse. The type of alimony awarded is based on the spouses' circumstances, and the court may award more than one type of alimony, where appropriate. The law also dictates when alimony can be modified, as well as when the obligation to pay terminates.
Lump Sum Alimony
Lump sum alimony, which is also called alimony in solido, is often awarded to a spouse to compensate for uneven property distribution. It is a form of long-term support and set by the divorce decree. It may be awarded when certain marital assets cannot be physically divided or if a spouse prefers to retain ownership of an asset and pay the award instead. The court will calculate the total amount of the lump sum award; however, the court may permit the owing spouse to pay the amount in installments, if necessary.
For shorter term marriages, a Tennessee court may award rehabilitative alimony. Rehabilitative alimony is designed to provide financial support to a spouse who may need education or training before reentering the workforce. For example, if the wife did not complete college because she had a child or got a job to help her husband pay for his education, the court may award rehabilitative alimony to enable her to complete her education.
Transitional alimony may be awarded when a Tennessee court finds that a spouse is not eligible for rehabilitative alimony, but the spouse still needs assistance for a short time to adjust to the "economic consequences" of divorce. It is designed to provide temporary financial support to a spouse who can be self-supporting but who needs time to get accustomed to a single-income household.
Alimony in Futuro
When there is a major disproportion in the value of the spouses' assets (when one spouse owns significant separate property or will continue to earn more money), the court may award alimony in futuro. Also called periodic alimony, this type of award is long-term and generally lasts until a spouse's death. Alimony in futuro is generally awarded after a long marriage, at least 20 years in duration, when it is unlikely that the receiving spouse will be able to maintain employment and become self-supporting.
Tennessee courts must consider a list of factors when determining the amount and duration of an alimony award. The most important factors are the receiving spouse's financial need and the owing spouse's ability to pay while still meeting his own needs. Other factors considered include the spouses' age and health, length of the marriage, value of each spouse's assets after the division of property, ability of the receiving spouse to maintain employment and become self-supporting, and the fault of either spouse in ending the marriage, such as in abandonment, abuse or adultery, for example.
Modification and Termination
If the alimony order permits modification, either spouse can request it. The court will modify the order if the requesting spouse demonstrates a "material change in circumstances." This usually includes an increase or decrease in either spouse's income, but this has also been expanded to include the receiving spouse living with and receiving support from another person -- regardless of gender. An alimony order will generally terminate on the date set by the court. However, early termination occurs when either spouse dies or if the spouse receiving alimony remarries.
Bernadette A. Safrath is an attorney who has been writing professionally since 2008. Safrath was published in Touro Law Center's law review and now writes legal articles for various websites. Safrath has a Bachelor of Arts in music from Long Island University at C.W. Post, as well as a Juris Doctor from Touro College.