Denial of Alimony Reversed in Murfreesboro, Tennessee Divorce: Shackleford v. Shackleford

FactsHusband and Wife, the parents of two children, divorced after 31 years of marriage.

Husband was almost 65 years old and earned $2500 a month as a custodian and Social Security recipient. Wife was 58 years old and earned $13,500 a month as a pharmacist.

The parties moved several times to advance Wife’s career. These serial moves required Husband, who worked at the time as a pharmacy technician, to begin new employment at the bottom of the pay scale.

Throughout the marriage, Husband performed most of the household and childcare duties while Wife was the primary income-earner.

Tennessee alimonyDuring the divorce litigation, Husband was living paycheck to paycheck and had to withdraw over $20,000 from his IRA to make ends meet.

After dividing the marital property essentially equally, the trial court declined to award alimony to Husband because it was “not necessary.”

Husband appealed.

On AppealThe Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

While Tennessee courts have broad discretion to determine whether spousal support is needed and, if so, the nature, amount, and duration of the award, such determinations will be reversed on appeal if they are an abuse of discretion.

The Court determined that failing to award alimony to Husband was an abuse of discretion:

[Statutory] factors one (relative earning capacity and need), three (duration of marriage), and ten (tangible and intangible contributions to the marriage), as well as factor nine (standard of living) as found by the trial court, favor Husband. In the division of marital assets, after marital debt is considered, the parties are left with equal assets. Husband was almost 65 years old at the time of trial, has a limited ability to accrue assets, and has minimal retirement assets of his own. Thus, he must rely upon the assets he attained as part of the divorce to secure his retirement. In light of the weight of the statutory factors and the legal principles applicable to alimony in Tennessee, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in declining to award alimony to Husband until Wife retires and her [] pension is activated.

The case was remanded to the trial court to determine the type and amount of alimony to be awarded to Husband.

K.O.’s Comment: The Court of Appeals twice mentions that Husband’s “earning capacity was always going to be far less than that of Wife.” Doesn’t this weigh against the threshold finding that Husband is economically disadvantaged? (See my comment here.)

The opinion does not say whether Husband’s status as “economically disadvantaged” was disputed. Based on the Court’s commentary about Husband’s earning capacity, I expected that to be contested.

Shackleford v. Shackleford (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, May 16, 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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