Alimony is a monetary payment made by one spouse to the other for a period of time after a divorce. There's no set formula available for a Tennessee court to use to set the alimony amount. Instead, the court considers a list of factors to determine the appropriate type of alimony, as well as the amount and duration.
Types of Alimony
The first thing a court must do when ordering alimony in Tennessee is determine the type of alimony for which the receiving spouse is eligible. Transitional alimony is available for a short period of time after a divorce to help the receiving spouse adjust to being self-supporting. The duration of transitional alimony is set at the court's discretion but is generally not longer than five years. The most common formula used is half the length of the marriage — e.g., three years of transitional alimony for a six-year marriage. Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded if the receiving spouse needs education or training to earn a more substantial income. Alimony in futuro is available for longer-term marriages — generally marriages that lasted more than 20 years — when it's not feasible for a spouse to be rehabilitated because she has been out of the workforce for many years. Lastly, alimony in solido is lump-sum alimony ordered to pay attorney’s fees or the one spouse’s contribution to the other’s education. For example, if the receiving spouse was the primary wage-earner while the other spouse attended medical school, the receiving spouse is entitled to be repaid for her financial contributions to both the marriage and the other spouse’s tuition. If the court orders a lump-sum award of $50,000, that amount may be paid in installments.
Amount of Alimony
When awarding alimony, the court must consider the factors set forth in Section 36-5-121 of the Tennessee Code. These factors include each spouse's income and ability to earn income; each spouse's level of education and whether the receiving spouse needs additional education or training to obtain employment with a sufficient income to be self-supporting; and whether the receiving spouse can't work because she has custody of their young children. Additionally, the court examines the length of the marriage, each spouse's contributions in acquiring marital property, the value of each spouse's separate property and share of the marital property, and either spouse's fault in causing the divorce — for example, due to abuse, adultery or abandonment.
Factors for Modification
If either spouse experiences a "material change in circumstances" after an alimony order is issued, that spouse may petition for modification. In Tennessee, a court may modify the alimony amount if a spouse suffered a job loss, if the spouse's income has substantially increased or decreased, or if the spouse is suffering from a serious illness or injury, is unable to work and is also burdened by increased medical costs. These changes apply to both spouses because they may cause the paying spouse to be unable to pay his full alimony obligation or cause the receiving spouse to require more alimony.
Termination of Alimony
If alimony is for a limited period of time, it terminates on the date set forth in the court order. However, both temporary and permanent alimony terminate immediately upon the death of either spouse or if the spouse receiving alimony remarries. Additionally, another event triggering termination was introduced after litigation between former spouses in which the receiving spouse was intentionally avoiding remarriage to take advantage of continued alimony. Courts in Tennessee and most other states now limit or terminate alimony when the receiving spouse is in a co-habitative, marriage-like relationship.
Bernadette A. Safrath is an attorney who has been writing professionally since 2008. Safrath was published in Touro Law Center's law review and now writes legal articles for various websites. Safrath has a Bachelor of Arts in music from Long Island University at C.W. Post, as well as a Juris Doctor from Touro College.