Facts: Husband and Wife divorced after 16 years of marriage.
When they married, Wife, 44, was a bartender, but she became a successful real estate agent earning $186,000 a year.
The most Husband, 51, ever earned was $35,000. After he lost his job halfway through the marriage, he remained unemployed for the remainder. He testified he contributed to the marriage by helping Wife with her real estate business.
Wife argued Husband’s contributions to her career were minimal and that he refused to work despite her urging him to get a job.
The trial court found
that Husband simply prefers to play video games, watch Fox News, and drink alcoholic beverages to working outside the home. He did little to nothing to attempt to obtain employment after his discharge and limited his contributions to the family endeavors to sometimes picking up checks, putting out/picking up signs for [Wife], and related runner type activities a few hours each week. . . .
[T]he evidence is clear [Husband] did not contribute to the marriage as a homemaker or, after 2009, as a wage earner. [Wife] did all of the cooking, shopping, cleaning, and tending to the home. . . .
[Husband’s minimal contributions] have in no way approximated what his holding a full-time job would have generated to the benefit of the marriage or what he could have contributed to the well-being of the marriage non-economically. Rather, he has chosen a life of leisure.
The trial court divided the marital property 62% to Wife and 38% to Husband.
The trial court also found that while Husband is economically disadvantaged compared to Wife, he did not suffer economic detriment to benefit the marriage. He was awarded transitional alimony of $2000 per month for six months.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Property division. In Tennessee, marital property must be divided equitably between the parties based on the relevant factors in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-121(c). One factor courts must consider is the
contribution of each party to the acquisition, preservation, appreciation, depreciation, or dissipation of the marital or separate property, including the contribution of a party to the marriage as homemaker, wage earner, or parent, with the contribution of a party as homemaker or wage earner to be given the same weight if each party has fulfilled its role.
The Court affirmed the division of property:
[A]fter 2009, Husband neither fulfilled homemaking responsibilities nor held a job. The 62/38 division of the marital estate reflects Wife’s overwhelming role in growing the parties’ assets in contrast with Husband’s chosen leisurely lifestyle from 2009 onward. Although not an equal division, we cannot say it was not an equitable division considering all relevant factors.
Transitional alimony. Tennessee’s alimony laws recognize that
the contributions to the marriage as homemaker or parent are of equal dignity and importance as economic contributions to the marriage. Further, where one spouse suffers economic detriment for the benefit of the marriage, the general assembly finds that the economically disadvantaged spouse’s standard of living after the divorce should be reasonably comparable to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage or to the postdivorce standard of living expected to be available to the other spouse, considering the relevant statutory factors and the equities between the parties.
The Court was unsympathetic toward Husband’s argument for more alimony:
Husband, after 2009, neither was a homemaker nor wage earner. Beyond that point, he suffered no economic detriment for the benefit of the marriage. His contributions were, as found by the trial court, “minimal.” Wife urged Husband to get a job or earn his GED, but he would not. Wife, meanwhile, works 10- to 12-hour days seven days a week in the real estate business. Wife also performed the vast majority, if not all, of the work around the home. Husband, by contrast, pursued leisurely activities in lieu of working. This consisted in large measure of playing video games for hours on end while leisurely meandering through his days. Wife already has sustained Husband in his leisure for years. To put it mildly, Husband is not a quintessential candidate for alimony.
And yet, the trial court did not deny Husband alimony altogether; it merely limited its amount and duration. . . . Husband is not being left destitute. The cord of dependency on Wife, however, is being cut.
The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.
K.O.’s Comment: This case well illustrates the distinction between economic disadvantage and suffering economic detriment to benefit the marriage and the necessity for both to a successful claim for anything other than transitional alimony.