Prenuptial Agreement and Alimony: Forgey-Lewis v. Lewis

Facts: The parties entered into what they conceded was a valid and enforceable prenuptial agreement. The agreement provided that in the event of divorce,

Each of the parties shall waive any right of support, maintenance, or alimony which he or she may be entitled to receive from the other as provided by law, and each agrees not to institute or necessitate any action to secure any such right with the exception that the court may award up to $3,000 per month in alimony to a non-defaulting party. In the event of a no fault divorce or dissolution by agreement, no alimony shall be provided to either party.

Prior to the marriage, Wife operated her own business. She shut it down to work in Husband’s business. Wife then sustained a back injury that impacted her ability to provide for herself post-divorce. The trial court granted the divorce to Wife, declaring that “[H]usband’s physical and emotional abuse of [W]ife is the sole reason that [W]ife was finally compelled to separate and divorce herself from him.” The trial court awarded Wife alimony in futuro of $3,000 per month retroactive to the date the divorce was filed. Husband appealed.

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

[W]e do agree that the circumstances of this case, which include Husband inducing Wife to abandon her business and put all her efforts into his, his later abuse of Wife to the point of forcing her to divorce him, and the lack of language in the Agreement that prohibits alimony from starting on the date of filing the complaint, fully support the award of alimony retroactive to the date of the complaint. . . .

The trial court noted, correctly, that the Agreement does not expressly provide a start date for an alimony award. It is true enough that alimony is not available under the terms of the Agreement without a divorce, but that does not mean, and the Agreement does not say, that alimony cannot start before the effective date of the divorce. The trial court correctly observed that since the ultimate effective date of a divorce can be delayed through the appeal process, Husband’s argument means that alimony could not start until after the exhaustion of appeals. There is nothing in this record to suggest such an intention by the parties.

The Court also chided Husband for selectively quoting various statutes and excerpts from the record. That tactic almost always comes back to bite the offender.

Husband threw every conceivable argument at the Court but got nowhere because the prenuptial agreement was vague on the subject of alimony. A more specific prenuptial agreement might have saved the day for Husband. Without it, well, he’s paying $3,000 a month for the foreseeable future.

The moral of the story: All prenuptial agreements are not created equal.

Forgey-Lewis v. Lewis (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, January 28, 2011).

Information provided by K.O. Herston, Tennessee Divorce Lawyer.

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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