Automatic Change in Alimony Reversed in Cleveland, Tennessee divorce: Sparks v. Sparks

July 6, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Husband and Wife divorced after 14 years of marriage. Throughout the marriage, Husband earned over twice what Wife earned.

The trial court ordered Husband to pay Wife alimony in futuro of $750 a month plus $693 per month in child support. Once their nine-year-old child reaches the age of majority, Husband’s child-support obligation will end, and Wife’s alimony in futuro will automatically increase to $1250 per month.

Husband appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by ordering an automatic increase in his alimony when his child-support obligation ends.

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

Alimony in futuro may be awarded when there is a relative economic disadvantage between the parties and rehabilitation is not feasible, meaning the disadvantaged spouse cannot achieve, with reasonable effort, an earning capacity that will let the spouse enjoy a standard of living reasonably comparable to the standard of living enjoyed by the other spouse.

Alimony in futuro is modifiable. Automatic increases in alimony are not unheard of but are generally not appropriate.

The Court of Appeals has allowed automatic increases in alimony when the alimony obligor’s child-support obligation ends when the obligor’s ability to pay will change from “a relatively imminent event.” This spares the parties the additional expense and trouble of reopening the question of alimony so soon after the trial court’s ruling.

The Court found an automatic change inappropriate here because the child-support obligation will not end for another nine years:

The child in this case was only nine years old at the time of trial and will not reach majority for another nine years. [W]e conclude that the statutory provisions governing alimony modification are better tools to manage Husband’s alimony obligation than an attempt to predict the status of all the relevant modification factors at a distant point in the future.

This Court has held that alimony increases such as the one created by the trial court are “generally not appropriate” and should be used only in “limited circumstances.” Such limited circumstances are not present in this case. Consequently, the trial court abused its discretion in ordering that Husband’s alimony in futuro obligation will increase upon the child reaching majority. This portion of the trial court’s ruling is vacated.

The Court reversed the trial court’s ruling to automatically modify the alimony obligation in nine years but affirmed the remainder of the trial court’s decision.

Source: Sparks v. Sparks (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, June 20, 2023).

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Automatic Change in Alimony Reversed in Cleveland, Tennessee divorce: Sparks v. Sparks was last modified: July 3rd, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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