Alimony, also called spousal support, is designed to provide financial assistance to disadvantaged spouses after a divorce. If you’re considering a divorce, it is important to understand how alimony works so you can be prepared as you navigate the process.
In this post, we will examine the different types of alimony and the important factors that determine if, which type, and how much spousal support is awarded.
How Does Alimony Work?
The nature of alimony is largely based on the length of the marriage. If the marriage is longer, for example, 20 years or more, then the obligation will be determined based on the supported spouse’s long-term support needs. If the marriage is shorter, such as under 10 years, then the reason for alimony will more likely be aimed towards helping the supported spouse become self-supporting.
Types Of Alimony In Tennessee
In Tennessee, there are four different types of post-divorce alimony. One is designed to provide support on a long-term basis and the rest are built to provide temporary support to the dependent spouse.
Alimony In Futuro
Alimony in futuro, also known as periodic alimony, is designed for support on a long-term basis. It is usually rewarded when there is a substantial disparity in earnings and wealth and when rehabilitation (the ability to support oneself in a meaningful way) is not possible. This type of alimony is most common in longer marriages that end in divorce.
Tennessee law states that alimony in futuro will be owed when the spouse receiving support cannot be expected to reach a level of earning capacity to allow a standard of living comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage or similar to the post-divorce standard of living enjoyed by the other spouse.
In recent years, these considerations are often overlooked when determining the type and amount of alimony to award. Courts are more likely to expect an able-bodied, intelligent spouse to do more on their own. As such, the majority of judges are not going to award an amount to make the lifestyles of both spouses equal after the divorce.
Alimony futuro can be modified if there is a change in the spouses’ circumstances. For example, if the receiving spouse lives with a third-party, the court may decide that support is no longer needed or needs to be adjusted.
Rehabilitative alimony helps the supported spouse obtain education, training, or experience to rejoin the workforce. It is also used to help the supported spouse achieve a standard of living comparable to that experienced during the marriage or is expected to be enjoyed by the other spouse after the divorce. Like alimony in futuro, most judges will focus more on self-sufficiency than equal standards of living.
Rehabilitative alimony can be modified by the courts if the spouses’ circumstances change. Also, the length of the alimony can be extended if it is shown that the recipient spouse made a reasonable effort at rehabilitation but was unsuccessful.
Alimony In Solido
Alimony in solido, also known as lump sum alimony, is a unique kind of alimony. It is most often used to balance out a lop-sided property division, usually caused by a large indivisible asset such as the marital home going to one spouse. Payments are either a single lump-sum amount or a series of a few payments over time.
Unlike other types of alimony, alimony in solido cannot be modified if the circumstances of the spouses change.
Transitional alimony is the most recent form of spousal support in Tennessee. It only lasts for a specified period of time and will terminate upon the death of the payor or recipient, unless specifically stated in the divorce decree. For example, there may be a provision that alimony will end when the recipient is remarried.
Transitional alimony cannot be modified unless the parties agree to make it modifiable at the time of the initial order for divorce.
This type of alimony is an attractive option to many spouses due to its certainty and predictability.
Determining Alimony In Tennessee
There are two primary sources of law that direct Tennessee courts in making decisions regarding alimony. First, there is statutory law created by the Tennessee Legislature.
These statutes define:
- The four types of alimony
- When alimony should be paid
- Length of alimony payments
- Amount of alimony payments
- Under what circumstances alimony can be modified
- Whether alimony terminates automatically or can be eliminated by application to a court
Second, there is Tennessee “case law”, an informal term that describes the deciding body of law created by Tennessee’s appellate courts when interpreting the statutes. In Tennessee, the appellate courts are the Tennessee Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Tennessee.
After a divorce trial, either party may appeal the trial court’s decision as a matter of right by claiming that the trial court made a mistake in its ruling. Following this appeal, either party may ask the Supreme Court of Tennessee to hear the case.
Factors the Court Considers When Determining Alimony
The court considers a variety of factors when determining whether permanent alimony or any other type of spousal support is appropriate. This includes:
- Financial resources and earning capacity of each spouse
- How long the couple was married
- Education and training level of each spouse
- Marital assets and how they’ve been divided
- Age and mental condition of each spouse
- Each person’s separate property
- Standard of living that the couple enjoyed during the marriage
- Contributions that each spouse has made to the marriage
- 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 relative fault of the parties in cases where the court, in its discretion, deems it appropriate to do so
- Other factors, including the tax consequences to each party
Temporary Alimony While Divorce Is Pending
Tennessee courts have the authority to award temporary alimony while a divorce case is still pending. This type of alimony is known as alimony pendente lite. It is designed to keep the divorce process fair so that a spouse who earns a higher income cannot use financial pressure to force a better settlement.
The decision to award temporary support is determined at a hearing where any attorney’s fees and child support may also be decided. Any temporary alimony order ends when the final judgment for divorce is entered.
Will I Receive Permanent Alimony?
Determining the type of alimony you’ll pay or receive is a complicated process. However, one thing is clear, permanent alimony is becoming less and less common as family dynamics and the nature of marriage continue to shift.
Unless you have been in a long-term marriage, and your spouse handled a significant majority of the financial responsibilities while you cared for the household and the children, you are unlikely to be awarded permanent alimony.
In most cases, the shorter the marriage and the smaller the gap in income level between spouses, the less likely one will be awarded alimony. In situations where an economic imbalance is present, or where one spouse agrees to support the other while they pursue higher education or training, the court has several options other than permanent alimony to help the recipient spouse get the support they need.
A Lawyer That Fights For You
If you are considering a divorce, it is important to find the right legal counsel to help you through the process. Experienced family law attorney Hunter Fowler is an expert in negotiating and litigating all aspects of divorce on your behalf, including alimony judgments, child support, and child custody.