Facts: Husband and Wife divorced after 38 years of marriage.
Wife was 58 years old at the time of trial and earned approximately $60,000 as a schoolteacher. Husband was 59 years old and earned approximately $134,000 as a welding inspector.
Wife was granted a divorce on the grounds of Husband’s adultery. Wife was awarded the marital residence and Husband’s one half share of the equity in the marital residence as alimony in solido. Wife was also awarded alimony in futuro until age 65 in the amount of $200 per month.
After accounting for the alimony in solido award, Wife received approximately 77% of the marital estate to Husband’s 23%. In other words, Wife left with somewhere over $400,000 more of the marital estate than did Husband.
Wife was also awarded a portion of her attorney’s fees as alimony in solido.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s award of alimony in futuro and attorney’s fees.
Tennessee recognizes four distinct types of spousal support: (1) alimony in futuro, (2) alimony in solido, (3) rehabilitative alimony, and (4) transitional alimony.
Alimony in futuro, a form of long-term support, is appropriate when the economically disadvantaged spouse cannot achieve self-sufficiency and economic rehabilitation is not feasible.
Alimony in solido, another form of long-term support, is typically awarded to adjust the distribution of the marital estate and, as such, is generally not modifiable and does not terminate upon death or remarriage.
Rehabilitative alimony is short-term support that enables a disadvantaged spouse to obtain education or training and become self-reliant following a divorce.
Where economic rehabilitation is unnecessary, transitional alimony may be awarded. 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.
After reviewing the record, the Court affirmed the award of alimony in solido, reasoning:
The record reflects that Wife is, in fact, disadvantaged relative to Husband in terms of annual income. Husband has shown an ability to regularly earn in excess of $100,000 per year, whereas Wife earns around $60,000 per year as a schoolteacher. We are aware that Husband’s income depends in large measure on outages occurring allowing him to work overtime and that his income fluctuates as a result. Nevertheless, even considering the fluctuations, the evidence is clear that Husband earns much more money than Wife. In order for Wife to preserve some degree of the lifestyle she had come to enjoy, some accommodation was appropriate to reflect her economic disadvantage. We also are cognizant of the some 38 year length of this marriage.
We find that the Trial Court did not err in assigning Husband’s one-half interest in the marital residence to Wife as alimony in solido. In reaching this conclusion, we are guided primarily by the relative economic conditions of the parties, not Husband’s adultery. The Trial Court’s award of alimony in solido is a reasonable one that accords with the evidence.
However, the Court reversed the trial court’s award of alimony in futuro, stating:
We next address whether the Trial Court erred in awarding Wife $200 per month as alimony in futuro until she reaches the age of 65. To resolve this issue, we must assess Wife’s status once she received the award of alimony in solido….
[U]pon receiving Husband’s one-half interest in the marital residence, Wife is no longer economically disadvantaged compared to Husband. There is no valid economic reason to award her additional spousal support. Husband’s conduct in this case, unsavory as some may find it, does not erase the economic facts between the parties. We reverse the Trial Court in its award to Wife of $200 per month until she reaches age 65, irrespective of whether one classifies it as alimony in futuro or transitional alimony.
The trial court’s award of a portion of Wife’s attorney’s fees was also reversed. The Court explained:
Our reasoning on this issue is substantially similar to ours regarding the alimony in futuro award. Once Wife received Husband’s interest in the marital residence as alimony in solido, she no longer was economically disadvantaged compared to Husband. Given this record, Wife has the ability to pay her own attorney’s fees, and no award of attorney’s fees to her as alimony in solido is appropriate.
Thus, the trial court was affirmed in awarding Husband’s one half share of the marital residence to Wife as alimony in solido. However, upon receiving that award, Wife was no longer economically disadvantaged as compared to Husband. For that reason, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s awards to Wife of alimony in futuro and attorney’s fees.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.