Tennessee alimony law is detailed, complex and factually specific

Four kinds of alimony are potentially available.

When a couple divorces, alimony, also called spousal support in Tennessee, can have a huge impact on each of their daily lives after the marriage ends. Tennessee law emphasizes that focusing on the relative standards of living of the parties is a key component of the alimony question.

Of course, the parties may come to agreement on alimony through negotiation instead of leaving the question up to the judge in the divorce action. But when the court determines whether alimony will be awarded and what the award will look like, while Tennessee law gives the judge considerable discretion, the spousal support law also provides detailed, specific direction on some aspects of the decision.

The alimony statute specifically recognizes that in many marriages, one spouse provides economically and advances his or her career, while the other may reduce or eliminate work in order to raise children or tend to the home and other personal aspects of the family. In divorce, a homemaker or parent has equal dignity under state law and that spouse should have a similar standard of living to that enjoyed during the marriage or at least to that of the other spouse after the divorce.

To determine whether alimony is proper and what the award should look like, the judge is to consider all relevant factors, including those in a specific list:

  • Earning capacities, debts, needs and financial resources
  • Education and training, capacity to get education and training, and need for education and training to increase earning capacities
  • Length of marriage
  • Ages and mental conditions
  • Physical health
  • Desirability of working outside the home when a parent will have custody of a child
  • Separate assets
  • Division of marital property
  • Marital standard of living
  • Contributions to the marriage, both economic and homemaker, and to the education or career of the other spouse
  • Relative marital fault, if appropriate
  • Other equitable factors, including tax ramifications

Tennessee law allows four kinds of alimony, which can be awarded alone or in combination with some or all of the others. The law prefers that an economically disadvantaged spouse be rehabilitated if possible by increasing his or her earning capacity to allow the marital standard of living or that of the other spouse after the divorce. To achieve this, rehabilitative alimony is used to help the spouse through a period of reasonable education or training.

The three other kinds of alimony:

  • Alimony in futuro or periodic alimony is long-term support until death or remarriage of the recipient when rehabilitation is not reasonable or possible. The award may be modified with a material change in circumstances or in some cases when the recipient lives with a third party.
  • Transitional alimony is meant to help the recipient adjust to economic change.
  • Alimony in solido, also called lump sum alimony, is long term support with an award in a set amount, to be paid in a lump sum or periodically until satisfied.

The details of Tennessee spousal support law are complicated and beyond the scope of this article. Anyone facing divorce in the state should seek out the advice and representation of an experienced lawyer.

Chattanooga-based family law attorney Patricia Best Vital of Vital Law Office & Dispute Resolution Services represents clients facing alimony and other issues in divorce.