Facts: The parties married when Wife was 22 and Husband was 27. Almost immediately after getting married, the parties began fighting over finances. Wife attended law school at night and worked as an administrative assistant in a law firm during the day. Husband worked as an engineer. After two years of marriage, the relationship had become intolerable and a divorce action was filed. After trial, the trial court awarded Wife transitional alimony in the amount of $500 a month for 12 months, and $15,000 as alimony in solido for attorney’s fees. Husband appealed.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Husband argued that Wife was not entitled to any type of alimony in any amount because of the short marriage, the temporary spousal support paid during the divorce proceedings, and Wife’s potential income following law school.
In Tennessee, trial courts are afforded wide discretion in determining whether there is a need for spousal support, and if so, the nature, amount, and duration of the award. Absent an abuse of discretion, a trial court’s decision to award spousal support will not be disturbed on appeal. The deference to trial court decisions regarding spousal support follows from the recognition that such decisions are factually driven and involve the careful balancing of many factors. When determining whether to award alimony, courts are required to consider “all relevant factors,” including but not limited to the relative earning capacity, obligations, needs, and financial resources of each party, the relative education and training of each party, duration of the marriage, the age, mental condition and physical condition of each party, the separate assets of each party, provisions made with regard to the marital property, the standard of living of the parties established during the marriage, the extent to which each party has made such tangible and intangible contributions to the marriage, the relative fault of the parties, and such other factors as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties. The two factors considered most important are the disadvantaged spouse’s need and the obligor spouse’s ability to pay.
After reviewing the record and displaying the necessary deference to the trial court, the Court stated:
Husband correctly identifies factors in this case that would tend to mitigate the need for alimony. However, Husband fails to articulate how the presence of these factors alone establishes that the trial court applied the wrong legal standard, reached an illogical result, resolved the case on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or relied on reasoning that causes an injustice.
The trial court’s alimony award is appropriate under the circumstances of this case. Transitional alimony is appropriate “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.” Wife was young when the parties married; both parties understood that she would continue her education so that she could eventually have a successful career. Husband had already achieved that goal for himself. Wife needs a small amount of support, for a limited amount of time, in order to adjust to the reality of having to pay her own rent and other monthly expenses as a single person while she finishes school.
Thus, the award of transitional alimony in the amount of $500 per month for 12 months was affirmed. The alimony in solido was also affirmed, and Wife was awarded her attorney’s fees incurred on appeal.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Matrimonial, Divorce and Family Law Attorney.