Posted by: K.O. Herston | November 12, 2012

Significant Transitional Alimony Award for Short Marriage in Tennessee: Gorbet v. Gorbet

Facts: When they met on an online dating website, Wife lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Husband lived in Jackson, Tennessee. They married, and Wife quit her job to move to Tennessee to live with Husband. The parties separated after only seven months. The trial court awarded Wife temporary alimony while the divorce was pending. At trial, Wife sought transitional alimony “just until [she] can get back on [her] feet.” The trial court awarded Wife transitional alimony for two years — $1,700 per month in the first year, and $750 per month in the second year. The trial court reasoned that, although the marriage was one of short duration, Wife needed funds “to help bridge the gap for a certain period of time until she can reestablish [in Arkansas],” and “to soften the economic blow of the divorce . . . .” Husband appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Husband argued that this was a marriage of short duration inasmuch as the parties were married only 220 days before they separated. He emphasized that Wife had the ability to earn a living, given her education and past work experience, pointing out that she earned over $32,000 per year at her former job.

All relevant factors, including the statutory factors listed in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-121(i), must be considered in determining whether alimony should be awarded to the relatively disadvantaged spouse and, if so, “the nature, amount, length of term, and manner of payment” of such an award.

The most important factors for a trial court faced with an alimony decision are the obligee spouse’s need for the alimony and the obligor spouse’s ability to pay. The trial court is afforded wide discretion regarding the award of spousal support, and the Court of Appeals will reverse the trial court’s findings only upon determining that such discretion “has manifestly been abused.” The statute specifically authorizes trial courts to award “transitional” alimony where warranted. Transitional alimony is appropriate “when the court finds that rehabilitation is not necessary, but the economically disadvantaged spouse needs assistance to adjust to the economic consequences of a divorce . . . .”

After reviewing the record, the Court affirmed the trial court, writing:

When the parties decided to marry, Wife moved from her home state and left a stable job with eleven years of seniority to start a life with Husband in Jackson, Tennessee. Thus, as noted by the trial court, Wife was uprooted from her home and job in Arkansas because of the marriage, and as a consequence suffered more than the normal amount of detrimental effect from the demise of the marriage. Wife testified that her former job in Arkansas was unavailable, and that even if she were rehired, the seniority status she had earned would be forfeited. She testified that her attempts to find employment in Arkansas had thus far been fruitless, and that she had concluded that she could not find a job in Arkansas until she completed her move there. In our view, this is precisely the type of situation for which transitional alimony was intended.

Gorbet v. Gorbet (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, October 11, 2012).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Matrimonial, Divorce and Family Law Attorney.


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