Tennessee Alimony Law in Divorce | Answers to FAQs by a Memphis Lawyer
Memphis divorce lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr. answers frequently asked questions about Tennessee alimony law and all 4 types of alimony in Tennessee divorce including in alimony futuro (periodic), transitional alimony, alimony in solido, and rehabilitative alimony each with unique purposes and requirements regarding modification and termination.
How does alimony work in Tennessee divorce law?
In Tennessee, alimony is a payment from one spouse to another for financial support. There are different reasons a court may order alimony to be paid.
First, alimony may enable the spouse receiving the support to maintain a lifestyle close to the one he or she enjoyed during the marriage. This is called alimony in futuro, or periodic alimony, and is most common in longer marriages.
Another reason for alimony is to help the receiving spouse become “rehabilitated.” For example, the alimony may allow a spouse to return to school to increase his or her earning capacity and become financially independent of the other spouse. This is called rehabilitative alimony.
A third and new type of alimony in Tennessee is called transitional. Transitional alimony is awarded when the court finds that rehabilitation is not necessary, but the economically disadvantaged spouse needs help adjusting to the economic consequences of a divorce.
Finally, the court may allow one spouse to pay money over time to make up for an imbalance in property division. This is called alimony in solido, or lump sum alimony.
There are no exact formulas for determining the type, length, and amount of alimony payments. If alimony is not received at the time of the divorce, it cannot be obtained later.
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I read that there were important changes to Tennessee alimony law. What are the major changes?”
In 2003, the Tennessee Legislature enacted several important changes in alimony and divorce law as proposed and advocated by the Tennessee Bar Association Family Law Section and its Code Commission.
A few of the changes were most important.
- The new law created the fourth type of alimony, transitional, which is discussed above.
- At trial, more than one form of alimony can be awarded.
- The law makes a strong public policy statement about marriage and the position of the disadvantaged spouse, encouraging judges to award more substantial awards so “that the economically disadvantaged spouse’s standard of living after the divorce should be reasonably comparable to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage or to the post-divorce standard of living expected to be available to the other spouse….”
Can you give an example of a short-term marriage?
John and Mary, a couple from Cordova, Tennessee, have been married five years. Near the beginning of the marriage, Mary quit college and got a job so she could help pay for John’s dental education. After finishing dental school, John found a new love and filed for a divorce. Because the marriage was of short duration, a court must first try to put the parties back in the position they were in before the marriage. Obviously, John benefited from Mary’s sacrifice. A court might award Mary rehabilitative alimony for a reasonable time, say three to five years, to help her complete her college education.
For more, see Tennessee Rehabilitative Alimony.
Can you give an example of a long-term marriage?
Steve and Jenny, a couple from Bartlett, Tennessee, have been married for twenty-five years and are getting divorced. Jenny started and owns an accounting firm earning well into six figures. Steve teaches music at the local high school and was the primary caregiver for the children, now grown. It may not be feasible for Steve to start over by going back to school. A court might award Steve alimony in futuro. Steve will receive a check until Jenny dies, or Steve dies or remarries or receives support from a live-in relationship.
For more information, see Tennessee Alimony in Futuro (Periodic).
What about alimony in solido?
Brad and Susan are both stock brokers who make about the same income and have no children. Their largest asset is their home, which has equity of $80,000. Unfortunately, neither Brad nor Susan have enough cash to pay the other for his or her share of the equity. Brad might offer to pay alimony in solido each month until the $40,000.00 is paid so that he can keep the house. If Susan accepts this type of alimony, she cannot petition the court to increase the amount after the divorce because alimony in solido cannot be modified.
For more discussion, see Tennessee Alimony in Solido (Lump-sum).
Can you tell me more about transitional alimony?
Transitional alimony is relatviely new in Tennessee alimony law. It lasts only for a certain period of time and will otherwise terminate upon the death of the recipient or payor unless otherwise specifically stated in the divorce decree. For example, there may be a provision that the alimony will terminate upon remarriage of the recipient.
Transitional alimony cannot be modified unless the parties otherwise agree at the time of the initial order of divorce. For many, transitional alimony will be an attractive option because of its certainty and predictability. Although no formal statistics have been compiled or surveys on the topic, transitional alimony is likely the most popular form of alimony negotiated in settlements.
As an example, Paul and Sarah married one year after graduation at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and moved to Germantown, Tennessee. They separated after 17 years. Paul now earns $165,000 per year as a manager in an engineering firm. Sarah is a teacher, earns $32,000 per year, and will be primary residential parent to their three children ages 16, 14, a 9. At mediation, Sarah accepted Paul’s offer to pay her $2,250 per month transitional alimony for 8 years in addition to child support and Paul’s agreement to pay for each child’s college tuition, room and boards, books, and fees equivalent to that amount charged by the University of Tennessee for in-state tuition.
For more information, see Tennessee Transitional Alimony.
Can a court award two kinds of alimony at the same time?
Can you show me more examples of different types of alimony awarded for varying lengths of marriages?
Absolutely. Our Tennessee Family Law Blog’s Alimony category has case summaries grouped by length of marriage.
What factors does the court consider?
- The relative earning capacity, obligations, needs, and financial resources of each party, including income from pension, profit-sharing or retirement plans and all other sources;
- The relative education and training of each party, the ability and opportunity of each party to secure such education and training, and the necessity of a party to secure further education and training to improve such party’s earning capacity to a reasonable level;
- The duration of the marriage;
- The age and mental condition of each party;
- The physical condition of each party, including, but not limited to, physical disability or incapacity due to a chronic, debilitating disease;
- The extent to which it would be undesirable for a party to seek employment outside the home because such party will be custodian of a minor child of the marriage;
- The separate assets of each party, both real and personal, tangible and intangible;
- Marital property division;
- The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage;
- The extent to which each party has made such tangible and intangible contributions to the marriage as monetary and homemaker contributions, and tangible and intangible contributions by a party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party;
- The relative fault (who is more to blame) of the parties in cases where the court, in its discretion, deems it appropriate to do so; and
- Such other factors, including the tax consequences to each party, as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.
So basically, everything. Appellate courts often say that need and ability to pay are the two most basic and important factors.
Can a spouse be awarded temporary alimony during the pendency of the divorce proceeding?
While the divorce is proceeding, temporary alimony may be awarded. This is accomplished by a hearing on a motion for pendente lite support. Child support and attorney’s fees may also be determined at this hearing. The temporary alimony order ends when the final judgment for divorce is entered.
How is the amount of temporary alimony determined?
There is no precise formula. The court will use its discretion, considering the ability of one party to pay and the needs of the party to whom the temporary alimony is to be paid. The court will look closely at the standard of living of the parties at the time of separation. Existing bills should be paid on time.
Can alimony be modified or terminated?
In a marital dissolution agreement, the parties may agree to make alimony non-modifiable, or modifiable only under certain specified circumstances.
If the court orders alimony, whether it can be modified or terminated depends on the type of alimony awarded and other terms that the court spells out. For alimony in futuro to be modified, the court will require a material change of circumstances. If the person receiving support lives with a “friend,” in certain situations this might constitute a change of circumstances. Be aware that these terms can affect the tax treatment of alimony.
For more information, please see the Tennessee Alimony Modification page.
What “change in circumstances” will support a petition for modification of alimony?
The possibilities are endless. A material change in circumstances might include increased or decreased ability to pay or a substantial change in the needs of either party, such as a serious illness.
Who can tell me how much I have to pay or how much I should receive?
When estimating how much a party will pay or receive in alimony, experienced attorneys consider the factors listed above, prior experience with the judge and the other attorney, and legal precedent. Any such estimate is just an educated guess and shouldn’t be considered a guarantee.
Prior to settlement negotiations, your experienced family law attorney will be able to advise you about a range of outcomes a court may award. This range may be based on legal research and/or financial analysis (such as a lifestyle analysis) based on the parties needs and ability to pay.
For examples of actual appellate cases on Tennessee alimony for various lengths of marriages, see our Tennessee Alimony Blog. At trial, spouses litigating alimony should focus efforts on submitting evidence related to Tennessee’s factors for alimony listed above. To learn more, see Top 5 Tennessee Alimony Strategies in Divorce and read Tennessee’s alimony law history.
Memphis divorce attorney, Miles Mason, Sr., practices family law exclusively and is founder of the Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC. Buy The Tennessee Divorce Client’s Handbook: What Every Divorcing Spouse Needs to Know, available on Amazon and Kindle. To schedule your confidential consultation, call us today at (901) 683-1850.