Equal Parenting Time Rejected, Alimony Affirmed: Chavez v. Chavez

Facts: After 12 years of marriage, Husband and Wife divorced. They have two children. After a two-day trial, the trial court found both parties had engaged in inappropriate marital conduct. Wife was designated the primary residential parent for the children. Husband was ordered to pay transitional alimony of $1800 per month for 48 months. Husband was also ordered to pay alimony in solido totaling $90,000, to be paid in increments of $15,000 per year for six years. Wife was also awarded $20,000 in attorney’s fees. Husband appealed.

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

Husband first argued that a 50/50 parenting schedule was in the children’s best interest and that he should be designated the primary residential parent instead of Wife. In the year leading up to the trial, the parties had exercised equal parenting time with their children on a week on/week off basis.

After reviewing the record, the Court found the comparative fitness analysis rendered the parties “fairly equal.” The factors that tipped the scales in Wife’s favor, as far as being the primary residential parent and having more time with the children, were Husband’s job and the oldest child’s preference. The Court noted:

Husband is the president and CEO of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Economic Development Council. The travel demands arising from his job are considerable. The trial court found that “he has, based on the testimony, engaged in many trips to many places and it has adversely affected his ability to spend the parenting time that he was awarded by the Court on a timely basis.” While Wife has a job that also requires travel, the trial court found that the time Wife “has missed with the children has been minimal compared to the time Husband has missed with the children.”

Furthermore, the trial court found:

that it’s not in their [the children’s] best interest to go a week and a week. It is too inconvenient, particularly for [the oldest child], because she is 13 and involved in dance. . . . This way the parenting time is not as disruptive as it has been and that’s the Court’s goal, and finds that it’s in the best interest of each child.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision on parenting issues, finding it was not an abuse of discretion.

Husband also challenged the trial court’s award of transitional alimony of $1800 per month for 48 months, as well as the alimony in solido award of $90,000 and the $20,000 award for attorney’s fees.

The Court acknowledged it must be mindful of the legislature’s determination in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-121(c)(2) that:

where one (1) spouse suffers economic detriment for the benefit of the marriage, the general assembly finds that the economically disadvantaged spouse’s standard of living after the divorce should be reasonably comparable to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage or to the post-divorce standard of living expected to be available to the other spouse, considering the relevant statutory factors and the equities between the parties.

The Court stated it was clear Wife suffered “economic detriment for the benefit of the marriage” since she testified she gave up a good job in Georgia so Husband “could put his career first move here for a better life for [the] family.” In affirming the trial court’s ruling, the Court commented:

Husband makes over four times the income of Wife. The economic disadvantage is undeniable. While it may not be possible for her to maintain her pre-divorce lifestyle, we are instructed by the legislature to order a division of assets and/or a level of support that provides Wife with a standard of living after the divorce that is “reasonably comparable to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage or to the post-divorce standard of living expected to be available to the other spouse.” In light of the evidence in the record, the trial court’s findings and the statutory factors and requirements, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering the transitional alimony.

The trial court was affirmed in all other respects. Wife’s request for additional alimony and attorney’s fees on appeal was denied.

Chavez v. Chavez (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, January 5, 2012).

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

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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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