Long-Term Alimony Changed to Transitional Alimony in Clinton, Tennessee Divorce: Finstad v. Finstad

alimony in tennesseeFacts: Husband and Wife divorced after 12 years of marriage.

Wife, 39, testified to two sources of income: (1) the operation of an in-home daycare she runs in the evenings, and (2) employment at Bojangles every other week. This results in monthly income totaling $1100.

Wife testified she intended to work more hours at Bojangles when the school year began.

Before the marriage, Wife managed a UPS store.

Husband’s net monthly income totals $5300. During the separation, Husband paid Wife temporary alimony of $600 a month and paid certain expenses, e.g., her car payment and auto insurance.

After finding there was no proof that Wife was underemployed, the trial court awarded Wife alimony in futuro of $905 per month for 42 months and $600 per month after that.

Husband appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

Tennessee’s statutory framework for spousal support reflects a legislative preference favoring short-term spousal support over long-term spousal support.

Alimony in futuro should be awarded only when the court finds that economic rehabilitation is not feasible and long-term support is necessary.

Instead of alimony in futuro, Tennessee courts may award transitional alimony. 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.

The Court of Appeals reversed the alimony in futuro award:

Contrary to the trial court’s holding, Wife testified to her underemployment both in terms of the position she holds and the amount of hours she is working. . . . She testified that she only worked every other week at Bojangles, that she could be working more hours, that she had the capacity to work more hours, and that she intended to work more hours once the school year started. . . . Therefore, testimony was elicited from Wife indicating that she is not working as often as she is able, and that her work experience includes the skills and experience necessary to manage the store. Her managerial experience and ability to increase her current work hours demonstrates that Wife can improve her earning capacity to a reasonable level without additional training.

Wife has three children, and she shares custody with Father. . . . [T]hey are all school-aged. Importantly, we note that Wife testified that working more hours would not interfere with her ability to care for her children. The record also does not indicate that Wife is physically or mentally unable to continue to work, to progress to a full-time schedule, or even obtain a new position that she desires. . . .

We hold that the Wife’s ability to be self-sufficient is not only feasible but likely. Accordingly, the court abused its discretion in awarding Wife alimony in futuro. . . .

Having reached the above conclusion, we nonetheless find that an award of transitional alimony would be proper. . . .

While concluding that Wife is able to be self-sufficient, we acknowledge that she has likely come to rely upon Husband’s substantial contributions in several areas of her life. We are not inclined to end those immediately. Therefore, we direct that the trial court entered an order awarding Wife transitional alimony in the amount of $600 per month for a period of five years, or until Husband dies, or Wife dies or remarries, whichever comes first.

The trial court’s award of alimony in futuro was reversed and replaced with transitional alimony for 60 months. Husband is to receive credit for the temporary alimony paid during the separation.

Finstad v. Finstad (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, October 19, 2018).

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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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