Facts: Husband and Wife divorced after a 17-year marriage in which the parties lived far beyond their means. Husband was a lawyer with income averaging $275,000 per year. Husband had $215,000 in student loan debt outstanding. Wife was primarily a stay-at-home mother. The trial court found Husband spent large amounts on frivolous expenses, including $9000 in one night at an establishment called “Babes.” After a multi-day trial, the trial court divided the marital estate and awarded all of Husband’s student loan debt to Husband as his separate property. The trial court also awarded Wife alimony in futuro of $7000 per month. Husband appealed.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part.
Property Classification. Husband argued the trial court erred by assigning the entirety of his student loan debt to him as his separate property. Husband argued that, while much of the student loan debt was incurred prior to the marriage, the loan proceeds went to support both parties. The Court rejected this argument as follows:
The evidence in the record does not clearly delineate which student loans funds were utilized prior to the marriage and which ones were utilized during the marriage. Barring such clear evidence, we find no reversible error in the Trial Court’s assignment of Husband’s student loan debt entirely to Husband as we do not find that the evidence preponderates against this finding.
Periodic Alimony. Husband next argued the trial court erred by awarding alimony in futuro of $7000 per month.
Alimony in futuro is intended to provide support on a long-term basis until the death or remarriage of the recipient. This type of alimony can be awarded where the court finds that there is relative economic disadvantage and that rehabilitation is not feasible. Thus, alimony in futuro is appropriate when the disadvantaged spouse is unable to achieve, with reasonable effort, an earning capacity that will permit the spouse’s standard of living after the divorce to 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. Alimony in futuro is not, however, a guarantee that the recipient spouse will forever be able to enjoy a lifestyle equal to that of the obligor spouse. In many instances, the parties’ assets and incomes simply will not permit them to achieve the same standard of living after the divorce as they enjoyed during the marriage. While enabling the spouse with less income to maintain the pre-divorce lifestyle is a laudable goal, the reality is that two persons living separately incur more expenses than two persons living together. Thus, in most divorce cases it is unlikely that both parties will be able to maintain their pre-divorce lifestyle.
In light of the foregoing, the Court ruled:
It is clear to us that, in light of Gonsewski, Wife is not an appropriate candidate for periodic alimony. Wife, only 41 at the time of the divorce, has no apparent serious health concerns. Wife is college-educated. Wife runs a jewelry business, albeit one that has not yet proven significantly profitable.
Given the clear preference for rehabilitation rather than long-term support in Tennessee law, periodic alimony for an individual such as Wife simply is unjustified. . . . We, therefore, modify the alimony awarded by the Trial Court from that of periodic alimony to rehabilitative alimony. Given Wife’s age, education, and health, ten years of rehabilitative alimony should allow Wife both sufficient time and opportunity to achieve financial self-sufficiency after the divorce.
The Court modified Husband’s permanent alimony obligation of $7000 per month to rehabilitative alimony of $5000 per month for a period of ten years.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Matrimonial, Divorce and Family Law Attorney.