Facts: After an 18-year marriage, the parties divorced. The trial court divided the marital estate and ordered Husband to pay Wife $150,000 to equalize the division of property. The trial court found that Wife needed transitional alimony of $500 per month until such time as Husband paid the $150,000 necessary to complete the division of property. Husband appealed, arguing that transitional alimony must be for a definite period of time.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals modified the trial court’s ruling.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121 states:
(g)(1) Transitional alimony means a sum of money payable by one (1) party to, or on behalf of, the other party for a determinate period of time. Transitional alimony is awarded 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, legal separation or other proceeding where spousal support may be awarded, such as a petition for an order of protection.
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(4) The court may provide, at the time of entry of the order to pay transitional alimony, that the transitional alimony shall terminate upon the occurrence of other conditions, including, but not limited to, the remarriage of the party receiving transitional alimony.
Wife argued that the statute does not define what is meant by a “determinate period of time”, and that specifying the payments will continue until the lump sum amount is paid is a determinate period of time. The Court rejected Wife’s argument.
We find no case addressing this precise issue, but a review of the cases in which transitional alimony has been awarded demonstrate that it has consistently been awarded for a set period of time. We are of the opinion that the appropriate approach in this case is to determine a reasonable amount of time for transitional alimony and then specify that it would terminate earlier upon the husband paying the lump sum award. This will achieve the purpose of the alimony award without running afoul of the statutory language. We modify the trial Judgment and require that the wife be awarded $500 a month of transitional alimony for 24 months, but to terminate earlier upon the husband paying to her the lump sum award.
What happens if Husband fails to pay the lump sum before the transitional alimony terminates? Nothing. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121(g)(2) provides that Wife’s transitional alimony award would not be subject to extension beyond the two-year period.
Information provided by K.O. Herston, Tennessee Divorce Lawyer.