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Spousal Support

Alimony/spousal support, is a legal obligation for one spouse to financially support the other after (and sometimes during) a divorce. If one spouse makes significantly more money than the other, or if one has given up career opportunities for the marriage, or fallen ill or experienced a disability, the economically disadvantaged spouse may need support to keep a reasonable standard of living.

Whether the court will order spousal support depends upon a variety of factors, including length of the relationship, contributions to the relationship (i.e. raising children, maintaining the household, economic contributions), relative fault (i.e. infidelity) and agreements you made with your spouse. The court also considers age, education, skills, and other issues that affect your and your spouse’s chances of finding or maintaining employment. The most important factor the court will take into consideration is the economically advantaged spouse’s ability to pay and the requesting party’s financial need.

In Tennessee, there are four different categories of alimony that may be awarded by the court at the resolution of your case. Depending on the circumstances of your family and your divorce, the court may award one or a combination of more than one type of alimony.

Transitional alimony is short term alimony that is given to allow a spouse to make the economic transition from married to single life. This may involve funds that will allow the economically disadvantaged spouse to pay for housing and expenses for a period of time.

Rehabilitative alimony is short term alimony that is given to allow a spouse to improve his or her employment opportunities and/or earning potential, i.e., to let the spouse go back to school or get additional job training.

Alimony in solido, or lump sum alimony, is granted when it is appropriate for one spouse to pay out a lump sum amount to the other spouse or when the family’s finances allow for such an arrangement.

Alimony in futuro, or permanent alimony (until death of the payor or remarriage of the recipient) is sometimes granted in cases involving long term marriages or special cases involving significant disability.

If the economically disadvantaged spouse needs financial assistance during the pendency of the divorce proceeding, under limited circumstances the court will award alimony pendente lite, in which the payor may be ordered to contribute to the payment of monthly expenses of the disadvantaged spouse during the divorce proceeding. The court will again look primarily to the ability to pay of one party and the financial need of the requesting party.

Spousal Support Modification

When spousal support has been ordered in a divorce, there are certain circumstances in which the amount of support can be terminated, reduced, or increased. Those circumstances may include one of the parties remarrying or cohabitating with a third party, or a substantial increase or decrease in one of the parties’ earning potential.

In order to modify an existing order for spousal support, a petition must be filed with the court setting forth the reasons for the change. If the parties cannot come to an agreement out of court, a hearing will be held before the judge, who will ultimately make the decision about what is appropriate under the circumstances. Due to the complex nature of spousal support determinations, we recommend not going into that fight alone. Call Sobieski, Messer & Elledge today to discuss your particular spousal support needs, as every case is unique.

Alimony Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is a man just as likely to be awarded alimony as a woman is?

Yes. At least the way the law is written, gender is not a consideration when it comes to making alimony decisions. Now and then you might find an individual family court judge with a gender preference, and in these cases, a good divorce attorney can help you fight back.

Is alimony available before divorce proceedings have concluded?

In some cases, a divorcing spouse might become destitute without receiving financial support before an alimony award is issued. During a divorce proceeding, it is possible to file a motion for “pendente lite support”, or temporary alimony. The temporary support ends when the divorce is finalized, at which point a more permanent alimony order may have already been issued.

Can cohabitation with a new partner affect alimony obligations?

Yes, under some circumstances, it can. If you are receiving alimony and move in with a new partner and your ex-spouse seeks modification of the alimony award, the family judge might conclude that you are receiving financial support from a new partner; or they may conclude that the efficiencies of combining households (sharing rent, for example) are saving you money. In this case, the alimony award could be modified.

How does a prenuptial agreement affect alimony obligations?

If the terms of a prenuptial agreement preclude the payment of alimony, a Tennessee family court is entitled to enforce it and deny alimony. This is not true in some other states, but it is true in Tennessee. It is also possible that the judge might invalidate the prenuptial agreement itself for some reason or another, in which case the prohibition against alimony would also be invalidated. Some judges are hostile to prenuptial agreements.

What is a “dependent spouse”?

A spouse who received financial support during the marriage can be classified as a dependent spouse who is entitled to alimony – a stay at home mom, for example. The key issue here, however, is not so much whether the spouse worked outside the home during the marriage, but the future earning capacity of that spouse. Naturally, a spouse who earned little or nothing working outside the home will probably be at a disadvantage when seeking to rejoin the workforce.

How does a court determine whether unemployment is voluntary?

The two most important factors in determining alimony are i) the financial need of the dependent spouse, and ii) the ability of the other spouse to pay. Both of these considerations can potentially be manipulated by a spouse who refuses to work while claiming to be unable to find work. Some of the red flags include:

  • Quitting a job without a good reason;
  • Refusing to look for a new job after being laid off (the court may require evidence of a job search);
  • Refusing to accept work below a certain salary threshold; or
  • Being fired for misconduct.

In this case, the court may impute income to the offending spouse and calculate alimony accordingly.

Is alimony considered a “no-fault” issue in Tennessee?

No, at least not necessarily. This is because a Tennessee family court has the discretion to take fault into consideration when making alimony decisions. The party judged at fault for breaking up the marriage will be at a disadvantage whether that party is the recipient or the one paying alimony. The longer the marriage lasted, the greater the consideration of fault will become in the calculation of alimony obligations.

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