Transitional Alimony Lowered in Clarksville Divorce: Russell v. Russell

Facts: After seven years of marriage, the parties separated and filed for divorce.

Husband works in his family’s business and has annual income of $80,000. Wife works at a local bank earning $37,500.

The trial court granted Wife a divorce on the grounds of adultery and inappropriate marital conduct. The trial court ordered Husband to pay $1,500 monthly in transitional alimony to Wife for thirty-six months and $1,346 monthly in child support.

Husband appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals modified the trial court’s judgment.

Husband argued that even if Wife needs every penny of alimony awarded to her, he is simply unable to reasonably pay his total expenses and the alimony ordered.

Transitional alimony is appropriate when a court finds that rehabilitation is not required but that the economically disadvantaged spouse needs financial assistance in adjusting to the economic consequences of the divorce.

Transitional alimony assists the disadvantaged spouse with the transition to the status of a single person. Rehabilitative alimony is designed to increase an economically disadvantaged spouse’s capacity for self-sufficiency, whereas transitional alimony is designed to aid a spouse who already possesses the capacity for self-sufficiency but needs financial assistance in adjusting to the economic consequences of establishing and maintaining a household without the benefit of the other spouse’s income. Consequently, transitional alimony has been described as a form of short-term “bridge-the-gap” support designed to smooth the transition of a spouse from married to single life.

Transitional alimony is payable for a definite period of time and may be modified only if: (1) the parties agree that it may be modified; (2) the court provides for modification in the divorce decree, decree of legal separation, or order of protection; or (3) the recipient spouse resides with a third person following the divorce.

After reviewing the record, the Court concluded that

[Husband’s] approximate monthly expenses total $3,180. Even considering that Husband may be able to trim his expenses, the $1,395.63 monthly balance remaining after his support obligations represents less than half of his expenses. Wife argues that Husband has no need of money for housing or utilities because at the time of trial, he lived with his grandmother and often stayed with his paramour. We must agree with Husband, however, that his living with extended family without contributing to housing and utilities for three years would not be reasonable or tenable….

[W]e determine that the amount of alimony established leaves Husband without the resources to pay rudimentary expenses….

We conclude that the trial court erred in setting the amount of transitional alimony beyond Husband’s ability to pay and that a downward modification from $1,500 monthly to $1,000 monthly is appropriate and supported by the evidence in this case.

Accordingly, the alimony award was modified because it exceeded Husband’s ability to pay.

Russell v. Russell (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, November 27, 2013).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial 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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