Facts: Husband and Wife divorced after 27 years of marriage. The trial court approved their marital dissolution agreement in which Husband agreed to pay alimony in futuro in the amount of $1500 per month.
Husband worked as a helicopter pilot for military contractors in the Middle East. His employment contracts were renewed annually and required him to be overseas for 60 days at a time.
Three years after the divorce, Husband’s employment contract began to require him to be overseas for 90 days at a time instead of 60 days. Husband chose not to renew his contract and accepted a lower-paying job.
Husband petitioned to modify his alimony obligation because of his reduced income.
After a hearing, the trial court’s found Husband’s employment change to be substantial and material change in circumstances. Specifically, the trial court found Husband no longer had the ability to do a 90-day rotation. The trial court reduced Husband’s alimony obligation to $900 per month.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Alimony in futuro is a form of long-term spousal support that can be awarded when the court finds that there is relative economic disadvantage and rehabilitation is not feasible. Such an award remains in the court’s control for the duration of the award, and may be increased, decreased, terminated, extended, or otherwise modified, upon a showing of a substantial and material change in circumstances. The party seeking to modify an alimony award bears the burden of proving that a substantial and material change in circumstances has occurred.
For alimony modification purposes, a change in circumstances is “substantial” when it significantly affects either the obligor’s ability to pay or the obligee’s need for support. A change in circumstances is “material” when the change occurs since the date the alimony was ordered, and the change was not foreseeable at the time of the final decree or within the contemplation of the parties when they entered into a property settlement agreement.
The Court held that, standing alone, the change in Husband’s rotation length did not constitute a material change in circumstances:
Husband testified that, at the time of the divorce, he was between employment contracts, and that his overseas employment contracts, like the ones he had entered into before the parties’ divorce, were always for a year. Thus, at the time Husband entered into the marital dissolution agreement, the potential for a change in his employment was foreseeable, specifically, that his employment would either be terminated or subject to change each year. This foreseeability further undermines Husband’s argument that his decision not to renew his contract and to take a lower-paying job was a material change in circumstances.
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The evidence did not establish an inability to complete the 90-day rotations; rather it shows a voluntary decision on Husband’s part, one effect of which was to decrease his income.
Accordingly, the trial court’s reduction of Husband’s alimony obligation was reversed and the previous award was reinstated.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family-Law Attorney.