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Articles Posted in Divorce

Alimony – A Primary Issue in Divorce

Alimony ButtonFor better or worse, nearly half of marriages in the United States end in divorce. Although the exact statistics on divorce fluctuate slightly from year to year and state to state, the residents of Tennessee are no strangers to breaking the bonds of matrimony. Throughout Tennessee, it is widely accepted and understood that issues pertaining to child custody and property division must be decided as part of any divorce. However, another extremely important issue in divorce – the issue of alimony (sometimes referred to as “spousal maintenance” or “spousal support”) – is often less certain or overlooked by parties to a divorce until it is too late, particularly if either or both of the parties have never gone through divorce before or if the divorce is unexpected.

In a broad legal sense, there are five (5) primary issues pertaining to any divorce: (1) grounds for divorce; (2) child custody; (3) child support; (4) equitable distribution of marital property; and (5) alimony. While none of these issues can be considered in isolation, the issue of alimony often predominates throughout divorce. The issue of alimony is the last major issue decided by the trial judge in a Tennessee divorce. Even if the facts of a case strongly indicate that the Court is likely to award one party alimony at the conclusion of the proceeding, vigorous litigation can ensue regarding what form the alimony should take, as well as its amount, duration, and other conditions.

Separate v. Marital PropertyProperty owned during a marriage in Tennessee is classified as either separate property or marital property. This distinction becomes quite important for many spouses when considering divorce. The concept is worth understanding because only marital property is subject to equitable distribution during a divorce. Separate property includes property which was owned by a spouse before marriage; property which was acquired in exchange for property which was already owned prior to the marriage; income and appreciation of separate property; property acquired by a spouse through gift, bequest, devise or descent; pain and suffering awards; victim of crime compensation; future medical expenses; future lost wages; and property acquired by a spouse after an order of legal separation in which a court has completed a final disposition of property.

Where the separate property analysis gets tricky is a carve out section, T.C.A. § 36-4-121(b)(1)(B)(i). This section states: ” ‘Marital property’ includes income from, and any increase in the value during the marriage of, property determined to be separate property in accordance with subdivision (b)(2) if each party substantially contributed to its preservation and appreciation” This requires an understanding of substantial contribution and preservation and appreciation. Thankfully, the statute includes some more helpful information by defining a substantial contribution. A substantial contribution may include, but not be limited to, the direct or indirect contribution of a spouse as homemaker, wage earner, parent or family financial manager, together with such other factors as the court having jurisdiction thereof may determine.” Preservation and appreciation are not further defined in the statute.

Let’s consider a few hypotheticals. In Marriage A, Wife was gifted a significant amount of publicly traded stocks from a family member prior to marriage. Husband paid taxes on Wife’s stocks when sold. Are the stocks marital property? In Marriage B, Husband bought a house before the marriage that was never used as the marital home. Wife’s name was never put on the deed. However, when the house needed repairs, Wife paid for the HVAC to be replaced. Is the house Husband’s separate property? In Marriage C, Wife purchased a house during the marriage and the house was foreclosed on. Can Husband be awarded dissipation?

Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.”

Divorce PreparationAlthough we say, “until death do us part” and fully expect our lives with that special someone to last forever, unfortunately, sometimes those expectations fall short of the reality.  Whether it’s because one spouse did something unforgivable or you simply grew apart, divorce may become the new reality.  As an attorney, I often find that by the time a client has made it into my office, much of the damage has already been done. This article was inspired by such clients in an effort to prevent the same type of damage to others who find themselves in similar circumstances.  Make no mistake, although we would like to think the person we committed our lives to would never purposefully try to deceive or deprive us, a divorce can be, and often is, a battle to be won or lost.  Recognizing this fact and understanding the “Art of War” is the first proactive thing a spouse can do for themselves.  It was Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general and strategist, who literally wrote the book and emphasized the importance of preparation for any victory.  His words transcend the battlefield and could not be truer than they are here. Proper preparation can mean the difference between victory or defeat, and much of a divorce battle is fought before the first court filing.

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YELLOW LABRADOR“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

Wedding china, dining room table, artwork collection… pets?  As most of the United States today, Tennessee included, continues to deem pets as personal property, many divorcing pet owners will face the question, “Where will Fido go?”  This question is particularly important for couples who acquired pets during the marriage and, as many pet owners can attest, consider them to be fundamental members of the family.  In this situation, divorcing parties are typically expected to separately address and agree to an equitable division of all “other items” of tangible personal property – “umbrella” language commonly found in divorce settlement agreements – under which pets fall.

Despite traditionally itemizing Fido between the Instant Pot and the outdoor patio set, the issue of pet ownership in divorce proceedings is, in fact, becoming an increasingly popular topic in family law throughout the country.  Similar to child custody disputes, divorcing parties may want to first discuss how to best maintain the status quo for the pet(s) post-divorce.  If both parties have equally contributed to the well-being, care, and financial responsibility of the pet(s), will be in the position to continue same after the divorce finalization, and neither wishes to forfeit ownership and/or visitation rights, they may find an informal pet agreement to be a feasible solution.

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