Scheduled Reduction of Alimony Reversed in Dyersburg, Tennessee Divorce: Perkins v. Perkins

April 6, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Wife, 57, and Husband, 60, divorced after over 30 years of marriage. Wife was a stay-at-home parent for most of the marriage and suffers from some debilitating health issues.

The trial court divided the marital estate 52% to Husband and 48% to Wife. Wife was also awarded alimony in futuro of $4000 per month for 53 months, after which the amount dropped to $750 per month.

Wife appealed.

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

As for the slightly unequal division of property, the Court found no abuse of discretion because the division in marriages of long duration should be “essentially equal.” Mathematical equality is not required. Because the division was close enough to be “essentially equal,” the Court found no abuse of discretion.

The alimony award was more problematic.

Tennessee law requires that alimony be based on the facts known at the time of the hearing. Questions reaching far into the future are best left to future judicial determination rather than crystal-ball gazing.

The purpose of alimony in futuro is to provide financial support to a spouse who cannot be rehabilitated. Although it is a form of long-term support, an award of alimony in futuro is subject to modification.

Wife first criticized the trial court’s failure to award her $4000 per month instead of the $5000 she requested. The Court found no error here:

Aside from its general finding that some of the expenses Wife claimed were not reasonable in their amounts, the trial court further did not countenance Wife’s efforts at trial to base her specific expenses on a hypothetical residence in Shelby County. Although Wife no doubt takes issue with this, the trial court was not mandated to find that Wife’s actual expenses would be in relation to a Shelby County residence, because the court was obviously not required to accredit Wife’s testimony that a planned relocation to Shelby County would, in fact, occur. It is apparent to us that the court found such a proposition unduly speculative, as it noted, “it is not reasonable to base [Wife’s] expenses on an area where she may live in the future.” Given its lack of conviction that Wife would be in Shelby County and corresponding treatment of a proposed life in Shelby County as a mere future possibility, we discern no error on the part of the trial court with respect to this point. Alimony must be based on the facts known at the hearing, and questions reaching far into the future are best left to future determination.

The automatic reduction in Wife’s alimony after 53 months was found to be an abuse of discretion:

We are in agreement with Wife, however, that the trial court erred in subjecting her alimony payments to an automatic reduction after 53 months. Wife has argued that there is no evidence to support such a decision, and to be frank, the trial court’s action appears to us to be entirely arbitrary. Tellingly, when a member of the judicial panel asked Husband’s counsel at oral argument whether he had any idea as to why alimony was reduced after 53 months, Husband’s counsel responded that he had “tried to determine that” but could “only speculate.” Counsel then continued with this transparency, stating, “I don’t know the answer to that quite honestly.” Because the contemplated reduction in Husband’s obligation after 53 months appears to be a completely arbitrary action, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion and hereby modify the alimony award to eliminate the contemplated reduction. Of course, although such action is required in this appeal, this is not to suggest that the $4000 monthly alimony award to Wife is in any way permanently fixed. As we briefly referenced earlier, awards of alimony in futuro are subject to modification.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s division of the marital estate and changed the alimony award to eliminate the contemplated reduction in payment after 53 months.

Source: Perkins v. Perkins (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, March 10, 2023).

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Scheduled Reduction of Alimony Reversed in Dyersburg, Tennessee Divorce: Perkins v. Perkins was last modified: April 6th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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