Tennessee Alimony Law

Tennessee Alimony Law is a factor driven analysis including length of marriage, earnings of the parties, wealth, lifestyle of the parties enjoyed during the marriage and relative fault.

Tennessee Alimony Laws

Tennessee Alimony Laws

Tennessee Alimony Law

To better understand Tennessee’s alimony law, read about the history of alimony in Tennessee from the Supreme Court of Tennessee as recited in its most recent landmark opinion issued in 2011, Gonsewski:

Spousal support in one form or another has been a part of Anglo-American divorce law for centuries. Prior to 1857, English ecclesiastical courts, which had jurisdiction over family matters, could grant divorces a mensa et thoro, known today as a divorce from bed and board or legal separation. These courts would grant the wife alimony under the theory that, because the marriage bond remained undissolved, but the spouses were authorized to live apart, the husband’s duty to support his family continued unabated.  Absent an award of support, the wife would become destitute since she could not remarry, could not own property of her own, and employment opportunities for women, especially married women, were limited.

In this country, courts imported the ecclesiastical court’s practice of awarding spousal support, but expanded it to include absolute divorces.  Tennessee was no exception, though alimony was originally permitted in this state only in cases involving a divorce from bed and board, on the theory that the parties were merely separated and thus not free to remarry. Consequently, it was appropriate to award support to the economically disadvantaged spouse.  If the parties were granted an absolute divorce, Tennessee law required that support be made in the form of property division rather than periodic payments as is typically done today.  From an early date, then, Tennessee law has been averse to providing spousal support on a long-term basis when the marriage was completely dissolved. This view continues to be reflected in the state’s current spousal support framework. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121(d)(2)-(3) (2010) (reflecting a legislative preference favoring short-term spousal support over long-term spousal support).

It was not until the 1860s that Tennessee courts were permitted to order spousal support in the form of periodic payments as an alternative to property division in order to supply the economically disadvantaged spouse with the “necessaries suitable to her rank and condition in life.”  In addition, the practice of ordering spousal support from the husband’s property only in bed and board divorces was changed during this time, such that support could be ordered in both bed and board and absolute divorces.  This support was to be paid “according to the nature of the case and the circumstances of the parties . . . for a limited time, or for life.” Further, the ordered support could “consist of a part of the husband’s real or personal estate, or it may be charged upon the former, as the court may, in its sound discretion, under the circumstances of the case, think proper.”  The courts also recognized that “[o]f course, no fixed rule can be laid down by which every case is to be governed” when determining the nature and amount of alimony.. The law then, as now, was that the need of spousal support, as well as its nature, amount, and duration, was “for the discretion of the [trial court], in view of the particular circumstances of each case.”

Once the early cases resolved threshold questions related to the type of divorce for which spousal support could be ordered and the form such an award could take, the courts’ focus shifted to the amount to award and the length of time it should be paid. By the 1930s, for example, Tennessee courts had recognized that, although “[t]here are no hard and fast rules governing the amount of alimony,” specific factors were to be considered in determining the appropriate amount.  These factors included the value of the separate property owned by the spouses, their age, income, “station in life,” as well as the “way and manner in which the [marital] estate has been accumulated and contributions made thereto” by the parties. The conduct of the parties and their relative fault was likewise deemed an appropriate factor to consider.  The parties’ standard of living could be considered as well. . . .

Current Tennessee law recognizes several distinct types of spousal support, including (1) alimony in futuro, (2) alimony in solido, (3) rehabilitative alimony, and (4) transitional alimony. . . .

The statutory framework for spousal support reflects a legislative preference favoring short-term spousal support over long-term spousal support, with the aim being to rehabilitate a spouse who is economically disadvantaged relative to the other spouse and achieve self-sufficiency where possible.. Thus, there is a statutory bias toward awarding transitional or rehabilitative alimony over alimony in solido or in futuro. While this statutory preference does not entirely displace long-term spousal support, alimony in futuro should be awarded only when the court finds that economic rehabilitation is not feasible and long-term support is necessary.

From the Supreme Court of Tennessee’s landmark alimony case in 2011, Gonsewski. Citations omitted.

Tennessee Alimony Laws
Tennessee Alimony Laws

For more information about Tennessee Alimony Law, see:

From the Tennessee Family Law Blog, see the Tennessee Case Law Summaries Alimony category grouped by number of years married:

Miles Mason


Memphis divorce and family lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr. is the founder of Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC. For more information about our professional staff, see our Meet the Team page.