Ability to Pay Alimony Challenged in Franklin, Tennessee Divorce: Griffin v. Griffin

November 2, 2022 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: In the parties’ first appeal, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision to award alimony in futuro but vacated the amount of the award—$6000 a month—because the trial court did not make sufficient findings about Husband’s ability to pay.

At the second trial, the parties stipulated that Husband’s monthly income after taxes was $16,800, which was less than his income during the first trial.

The trial court found it was inappropriate to consider some of Husband’s expenses for the parties’ adult son, including a car loan payment associated with the adult son’s car. While noting that Husband was liable for the debt from the division of marital debt, it found that Husband had sufficient liquid assets to pay the debt and eliminate the monthly expense.

The trial court also found Husband’s statement of expenses to lack credibility because Husband did not prepare the document and had little independent knowledge of its contents. The trial court concluded that Husband “simply fabricated numbers for the court’s consideration and misrepresented their origin.” Based on these findings, the trial court discounted certain of Husband’s monthly expenses, finding them exaggerated or discretionary.

The trial court found that Husband could pay alimony in futuro of $6000 per month, which was the same amount awarded in the first trial.

Husband appealed.

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

Parents are generally not responsible for the expenses of their adult children. Thus, a court may appropriately deduct such expenses when assessing a parent’s ability to pay spousal support.

The Court found no error in the trial court’s assessment of Husband’s ability to pay:

[Husband] takes issue with the court’s suggestion that he could pay off [their son’s] car expenses from his liquid assets. He argues that whether an expense can be satisfied from assets awarded in a divorce does not determine the reasonableness of an expense. But whether an expense is reasonable depends on the circumstances. And courts may anticipate marital debt will be satisfied by liquid assets awarded in the divorce.

In our view, the court appropriately excluded expenses associated with the adult son’s car. Although [Husband] was obligated on the car loan, his son could be expected to make the payments if he desired to keep the car. Should keeping the car not be sufficient incentive for the son to make the payments, then [Husband] could sell the car in order to reduce his personal liability on the loan.

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[Husband] did not prepare the statement of monthly expenses himself, had little independent knowledge of its contents, and could not vouch for its accuracy. He was not able to explain the method used for the document’s preparation other than to state it was put together by a third party. Upon review, we cannot find evidence in the record to validate the expense figures beyond [Husband’s] own testimony. And we will not second-guess the trial court’s determination of [Husband’s] credibility.

Beyond the adverse credibility determination, the court also found that some of the monthly expenses in the “other expenses” category were discretionary. So the court reduced expenses for gifts, travel and vacation, and charitable donations.

The question of whether an expense is “discretionary” informs the question of whether it is “reasonable.” An expense can be unreasonable because it is not necessary. And discretionary expenses are by their very nature unnecessary.

The Court found no error in the trial court’s conclusion that Husband’s income, less his reasonable expenses, resulted in his ability to pay alimony in futuro of $6000 per month.

Griffin v. Griffin (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, October 27, 2022).

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Ability to Pay Alimony Challenged in Franklin, Tennessee Divorce: Griffin v. Griffin was last modified: November 13th, 2022 by K.O. Herston

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