Alimony in futuro Challenged in Jackson, Tennessee Divorce: Williams v. Williams

FactsHusband and Wife divorced after 21 years of marriage. When they met, Husband was a medical resident at a hospital and Wife was a critical-care nurse. They agreed that Wife would be a stay-at-home parent for their child.

Husband became board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology. Wife did not work outside the home until 2010 when she became an adjunct professor at a seminary after becoming an ordained minister.

Tennessee alimonyIn June 2016, Wife filed for divorce and moved to North Carolina to begin her internship and residency as a chaplain.

The trial court found that Wife devoted her married life to being a stay-at-home parent and homemaker. Husband earns 12 to 13 times what Wife earns.

Even though Wife was employed, Husband was ordered to pay Wife $4000 per month in alimony in futuro.

Husband appealed.

On AppealThe Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

A Tennessee court can only award alimony in futuro when it finds that economic rehabilitation is not feasible.

To be rehabilitated means to achieve, with reasonable effort, an earning capacity that will permit the economically disadvantaged spouse’s standard of living after the divorce to be reasonably comparable to the postdivorce standard of living expected to be available to the other spouse.

The Court agreed that alimony in futuro was appropriate:

Here, the trial court made a specific finding that Wife could not be rehabilitated as defined by the statute. Given the disparity between the parties’ incomes and earning capacities, Husband has not demonstrated that Wife would ever be able to achieve a standard of living that would be reasonably comparable to . . . Husband’s standard of living postdivorce.

[I]t is clear that Wife put her career on hold to be a stay-at-home mother . . . . Wife was unemployed for 15 years while she helped Husband advance his career. . . . Husband’s employment is steady, and there is no evidence to suggest Husband will leave his employment or earn a lower income in the near future. Husband’s substantial salary allowed the parties to enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle during the marriage. . . . Wife testified that she expects to make approximately $40,000 to $50,000 per year, which is far less than Husband’s current or expected income in the future.

Accordingly, the evidence clearly shows that Wife is economically disadvantaged relative to Husband, and Husband has the ability to pay the alimony in futuro award of $4000 per month. Contrary to Husband’s argument, Wife will not be able to achieve a comparable standard of living . . . . This, coupled with Husband’s ability to pay alimony in futuro, supports the trial court’s award of alimony in futuro in this case.

The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

Williams v. Williams (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, March 26, 2019).

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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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