Facts: Parties were married for 39 years. They have seven adult children. Husband is a physician. Wife is a CPA who spent the majority of the marriage as a homemaker, although she assisted Husband in the management of his medical practice. Husband was at fault for the demise of the marriage. The trial court awarded Wife $1.7 million in marital assets and awarded Husband $1.5 million. The trial court also awarded Wife transitional spousal support of $6,333/mo. for six months followed by $3,000/mo. for eight years. Both parties appealed the issues of property division and alimony.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
The marriage lasted for almost forty years. The parties were married while Husband was receiving his medical training and were partially supported by Wife during that time. Clearly, Husband’s earning capacity is greater than Wife’s since he was earning $216,000 a year at the time of trial and the trial court found Wife’s total income from her CPA practice, investments, and board participation to be $30,000 per year. The testimony was clear that the parties’ decision that Wife be the homemaker allowed Husband to primarily focus on his career — i.e., he worked and she did everything else, including rearing the parties’ 7 children. It is not disputed that the couple was able to manage their financial affairs well due in large part to Wife’s efforts and abilities.
Almost every factor in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-121(c) heavily favors Wife. The marriage was of long duration, Husband is more employable and has a far greater earning capacity while Wife has unmet financial needs. While Husband was the wage earner and Wife the homemaker which Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-121(c)(5) is to be given the same weight, Wife handled the financial aspects of the couples’ personal life and Husband’s business affairs. Husband concedes that wife is the superior financial manager. Clearly, Wife’s economic position is inferior to Husband’s since Wife has devoted herself for almost forty years to their family, home and finances, while Husband’s profession and experience put him in a better position to generate income. While Husband currently earns $216,000 per year, the evidence showed that in years past he earned much more but elected to take a path resulting in less earnings. Such a choice, however, is unavailable to Wife due both to her age (58 years) and absence of time to cultivate a career. Not only is Wife economically less advantaged, she is in that position precisely because of her contributions to their family, home, and her efforts to accumulate the marital assets. Such is true even if we credit the testimony that Wife could earn $40,000 per year as a full time CPA.
While Wife argues for more alimony, her apparent preference is a greater share of the marital assets. It is important to note that while marital property should be divided equitably, that does not mean equally. Our Supreme Court recognized . . . that “when feasible,” trial courts are encouraged to use the division of marital property to help meet the disadvantaged spouse’s needs. Consequently, when practical, a court should consider awarding more assets to an economically disadvantaged spouse to provide for future support rather than rely solely on alimony. Such would further legislative policy to, if not eliminate in this situation, at least reduce spousal dependency.
Based on the foregoing, the Court remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to award Wife an additional $300,000 in property. In light of the modified property division, the trial court’s alimony award was left undisturbed.
Information provided by K.O. Herston, Tennessee Divorce Lawyer.