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Determination of Alimony in TN Divorce

The issue often arises of whether one spouse will be ordered to pay the other spouse alimony when a couple's marriage ends in divorce. In Tennessee, alimony is sometimes referred to as "spousal support" or "spousal maintenance." The four main types of alimony under Tennessee law are as follows: (1) alimony in futuro; (2) alimony in solido; (3) rehabilitative alimony; and (4) transitional alimony.

In this article, we will explore some of the factors family law courts in Tennessee examine in determining whether to award alimony to one spouse in a divorce and, if so, the nature, amount, duration, and manner of payment of the alimony to be awarded.

Who is Most Likely to be Awarded Alimony?

At the outset, it should be noted that Tennessee statutory law reflects a clear legislative preference for short-term spousal support over long-term spousal support. In interpreting Tennessee statutory law regarding alimony, the Tennessee Supreme Court has found that the statutory framework surrounding alimony is aimed at rehabilitating a spouse who is economically disadvantaged relative to the other spouse and helping the spouse in need of support to achieve self-sufficiency where possible.

In cases involving short-term marriages, it may be unlikely for a spouse who is economically disadvantaged relative to the other spouse to receive any kind of alimony award at all. Moreover, even if an alimony award may otherwise be warranted under Tennessee law in a particular case, the decision of whether to award alimony can be significantly impacted (or even entirely precluded) if the divorcing couple has already reached an agreement regarding alimony as part of an enforceable prenuptial agreement, postnuptial agreement, reconciliation agreement, or other contract.

What Factors Affect The Nature, Amount, and Duration of Alimony?

In divorce cases where a Tennessee court finds that alimony of some form is appropriate and warranted under the circumstances, the court will consider several factors in determining the nature, amount, duration, and manner of payment of the alimony:

  • The relative earning capacity, obligations, needs, and financial resources of each party, including income from pension, profit sharing or retirement plans and all other sources;
  • The relative education and training of each party, the ability and opportunity of each party to secure such education and training, and the necessity of a party to secure further education and training to improve such party's earnings capacity to a reasonable level;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The age and mental condition of each party;
  • The physical condition of each party, including, but not limited to, physical disability or incapacity due to a chronic debilitating disease;
  • The extent to which it would be undesirable for a party to seek employment outside the home, because such party will be custodian of a minor child of the marriage;
  • The separate assets of each party, both real and personal, tangible and intangible;
  • The provisions made with regard to the marital property, as defined in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-121;
  • The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage;
  • The extent to which each party has made such tangible and intangible contributions to the marriage as monetary and homemaker contribution, and tangible and intangible contributions by a party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party;
  • The relative fault of the parties, in cases where the court, in its discretion, deems it appropriate to do so; and
  • Such other factors, including the tax consequences to each party, as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.
What are the two Most Important Factors in Determining Alimony?

Therefore, the overall circumstances of the parties - as presented to the court based on the admissible evidence in the case and guided by the statutory factors listed above - largely informs a Tennessee court whether an award of alimony is warranted in a divorce (and, if so, the nature, amount, duration, and manner of payment of the alimony). Importantly, the Tennessee Supreme Court has further found that, while each of the above factors must be considered when relevant to the parties' circumstances, the two most important factors are the disadvantaged spouse's needs and the obligor spouse's ability to pay.

It should also be noted that, in the event the parties reach an agreement on the issue of alimony and sign a valid Marital Dissolution Agreement addressing the issue, a Tennessee court will generally enforce the Marital Dissolution Agreement's provisions regarding alimony as a contractual matter without regard to any analysis of the parties' circumstances under the statutory factors listed above.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Represent me if Alimony is an Issue?

If you or a loved one believe that the issue of alimony is likely to arise in a pending or prospective divorce, it is imperative to seek the advice of a knowledgeable Nashville divorce attorney as soon as possible. Although trial judges have the discretion to award alimony as well as determine its form, duration, and manner of payment, the presentation of your case, including relevant evidence pertaining to your ability to earn income, medical conditions, age, career, and several other factors, can materially impact whether alimony will be awarded in your case. Furthermore, in the event alimony is awarded in your case, the compilation and presentation of the relevant evidence in your case can determine whether the award of alimony will be significant in both duration and amount or short-lived and minimal.

Contact a Nashville family law attorney with Cole Law Group today at 615-490-6020 to schedule a consultation and learn about your alimony options in divorce.

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