Facts: After 19 years of marriage, the parties divorced. They have two children.
Husband is a medical doctor earning approximately $360,000 a year.
Wife is a high school graduate who was a homemaker and stay-at-home parent throughout the marriage. By the time of trial, Wife had obtained a real estate license and was working as an assistant property manager earning $36,000 per year.
The trial court awarded Wife transitional alimony of $3000 a month for five years because she “has a significant need wherein she is economically disadvantaged and needs to adjust to the economic consequences of her divorce.”
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and modified the alimony award.
There are four types of spousal support, or alimony, available in Tennessee: (1) alimony in futuro, (2) alimony in solido, (3) rehabilitative alimony, and (4) transitional alimony.
Alimony in futuro is intended to provide support on a long-term basis and is to continue until the recipient dies or remarries. Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-121(f)(1) provides that this type of alimony is appropriate when
there is relative economic disadvantage and that rehabilitation is not feasible, meaning that 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 solido is another form of support and is typically paid in one lump sum or else paid in installments over a period of time. Alimony in solido may be awarded in place of, or in addition to, another alimony award, for the purpose of providing support, including attorney’s fees, where appropriate.
Rehabilitative alimony is meant to assist an economically disadvantaged spouse to acquire additional education or training in an effort to achieve a standard of living comparable to the standard of living that existed during the marriage or the post-divorce standard of living expected to be available to the other spouse. The legislature has expressed a preference for this type of alimony in those situations when the economically disadvantaged spouse is reasonably able to obtain an earning capacity that is reasonably comparable to the economically advantaged spouse.
Transitional alimony is appropriate when a court determines that rehabilitation is not necessary, but the economically disadvantaged spouse needs help adjusting to the economic consequences of a divorce. This type of alimony has been described as assisting a person in transition become adjusted to the status of living as a single person.
Tennessee courts have stated frequently that when making alimony determinations, the two most important considerations are the disadvantaged spouse’s need and the obligor spouse’s ability to pay. All of the factors can be found at Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-121(I).
On appeal, Wife argued that regardless of any effort on her part, she will never be able to earn enough to match the standard of living she enjoyed during her marriage, or the standard of living Husband will continue to enjoy post-divorce.
After reviewing the record, the Court agreed, reasoning:
The proof shows that Wife is 45 years old and that, with the agreement of Husband, she stayed at home to take care of the parties’ children while Husband pursued his education and career as a doctor. Although Wife is able-bodied, it is not realistic to believe Wife can be rehabilitated to the extent that she will be able to achieve a standard of living comparable to the standard of living of the parties prior to the divorce or to the standard of living Husband is expected to enjoy post-divorce. Consequently, Wife is not capable of rehabilitation as defined by statute….
The evidence shows that Wife has taken steps to make herself more marketable by becoming a licensed real estate agent and earning her certification as a surgical technologist. However, the best job she has been able to find pays just 1/10 of the amount Husband earns in a year as a physician.
Having determined that Wife is not able to be rehabilitated, we find that the trial court erred in failing to award Wife alimony in futuro. The trial court failed to apply the correct legal standard to the facts….
We find Wife has a need for alimony in futuro and that Husband has the ability to pay Wife $4,500 per month. Accordingly, we modify the trial court’s judgment and award Wife alimony in futuro in the amount of $4,500 per month.
Accordingly, the trial court’s judgment was reversed and the alimony award modified.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.