Decades ago, it was common for married women to spend their lives taking care of children and homemaking. Dad built his career and went to work every day while mom handled the homestead. But over the last few decades, that cultural norm has experienced a massive shift as more and more women choose to pursue careers while raising children. As this major cultural shift happened, legislatures began tweaking alimony laws to reflect the growing trend. Now, qualifying for alimony is more difficult than it was in years past.
Today’s family court judges consider myriad factors before determining if anyone gets alimony in a divorce. Two factors that must be present for a court to order alimony are one party’s need for money and the other party’s ability to pay. Both elements must be present. And once a judge grants alimony, they must decide how much to award and how long the payments should last.
Types and Duration of Alimony in Tennessee
There are four types of alimony judges can award in Tennessee: alimony in futuro, alimony in solido, rehabilitative alimony, and transitional alimony.
Alimony in Futuro (Periodic Alimony)
This type of alimony is probably the most similar to the alimony of yesteryear. Judges often grant this type of support on a long-term or even permanent basis. Courts tend to reserve periodic alimony for longer-term marriages where a spouse of either gender opted out of the workforce to care for the home and family. However, any number of factors (discussed later in this article) can combine for this award to be appropriate. This type of alimony is usually as close to permanent alimony as you can get. Therefore, spouses in need of support often strongly desire it, and paying spouses try everything they can to avoid it.
Alimony in Solido
Another term for this is “lump sum alimony,” and it is also a form of longer-term support. Instead of binding one spouse to an indeterminate number of years of payments, potentially with no end in sight, a judge decides on the total amount owed. Typically, a judge decides the full dollar amount up front and orders one spouse to pay it to the other in either one lump sum or in installments for a definite period of time. After the amount is paid in full, alimony payments stop. Judges use this form of alimony for many reasons, but two of the most common are to correct an imbalance in asset distribution or to pay for one party’s attorney fees.
Rehabilitative alimony is different from the first two in that it is of shorter duration and for a specific purpose. Judges use this form of alimony to help the spouse with lesser job skills “get up to speed” and become self-supporting. The idea is that the spouse who makes more money provides support for a specific period of time during which the other spouse goes back to school or otherwise prepares for a career. This form of alimony is currently preferred over longer term obligations unless there is a reason the disadvantaged spouse cannot work.
Transitional alimony usually provides assistance to the disadvantaged spouse for the shortest duration of time. For instance, suppose Jane is a journalist who did not work for the 20 years she was John’s wife. She still has her journalism degree. But being out of the workforce for so long will likely make it significantly harder to get a decent job. Therefore, a judge may award Jane temporary alimony to help her transition to single life by obtaining gainful employment.
Qualifying for Alimony
Today’s alimony is gender-neutral, and either party can request this financial support in a divorce. There are specific factors judges use to decide the question of alimony. But within these factors, Tennessee’s Supreme Court recognizes broad judicial discretion when making alimony decisions in any given case. In other words, each case is unique, and as a case unfolds, the judge may give more weight to one factor over another as they see fit. The goal is twofold: to decide if the facts warrant alimony and then to arrive at an amount and duration that is fair to both parties. Here are some of the many factors a judge may consider:
- How long was the marriage?
- How old are the spouses?
- How well or ill is each spouse, both physically and mentally?
- What is each person’s level of education or training?
- How much money can each person realistically make going forward?
- What other financial resources does each individual have?
- What are each person’s financial obligations?
- What are the child custody arrangements, and does staying home to care for young children affect either party’s ability to work?
- How did the court divide the marital assets?
- Did either spouse sacrifice for the sake of the other spouse’s education, training, and earning power?
- Was either party at fault for the divorce?
The judge can consider any of these factors and any additional factor they find relevant. They have broad discretion to weigh one factor more heavily and others less heavily as they consider this vital alimony question. Because judges have such broad discretion, you can never know what decision they will make. So you might be better off negotiating with your ex to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement before leaving it in the judge’s hands.
Our Lawyers Have Answers
Alimony is no longer a “given” when a couple divorces. The laws have tightened up, and it is harder today to qualify for alimony than ever before. But the experienced divorce legal team at Batson Nolan PLC handles these types of family legal matters every day. We know the ins and outs of alimony, and we can help present the best case to receive this financial support for as long as you need it. Call us today, or contact us online to set up a free initial consultation with one of our caring and compassionate lawyers.