Rehabilitative Alimony: What Happened in this Case?

There’s a huge chance that many divorcing spouses don’t realize there are different types of alimony. Spousal support can be ordered or agreed upon for a number of reasons and for short or longer time periods. Rehabilitative alimony is a form of limited duration alimony. So, what exactly does it mean?

The statutory language regarding decrees for spousal support appears in the Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-121. The concept is to financially assist the more “economically disadvantaged spouse” so that they are able to ultimately achieve an earning capacity and enjoy the same standard of living they were accustomed to during the marriage. Alternatively, the goal is to match the post-divorce standard of living available to the higher earning spouse.

It’s an example used many times, albeit a good one. A couple is married more than a decade. Dad decides to stay at home, while Mom pursues business opportunities that bring in a six-figure income.

Although Dad is a great father, he neither completed college nor any kind of vocational training. In order to return to the workforce, Dad will need to find a trade or go back to school. This is a case where rehabilitative alimony would help Dad as he obtains the necessary tools to enhance his earning capacity.

Among other things, a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision considered issues with an award for rehabilitative alimony. Learn why the trial court’s opinion was reversed.

Rehabilitative Alimony: Buchanan v. Buchanan

Buchanan v. Buchanan comes from the Court of Appeals in Knoxville, originating from their July 19, 2018. The court’s decision was marked filed on September 26, 2018.

First, some information concerning the background of the case. On April 15, 2014, Maria Kalis Buchanan filed for a legal separation from her husband, Rodney M. Buchanan. When Rodney answered the complaint, he asked that the couple be granted a divorce based on irreconcilable differences.

The couple married approximately eighteen years prior to filing for divorce. At the time of the court action, Maria was 51 and Rodney was 55. Rodney was partially disabled as a result of a fall. Maria’s employment history was limited – as she was a homemaker and the children’s primary caretaker. At the time of the trial, Maria earned approximately $1500 monthly for her work at a local university.

According to Rodney’s court testimony, he earned more than $100,000 as a financial advisor. After his monthly expenses were paid, Rodney admitted that he had over $3K in excess surplus.

Upon reviewing the facts, the trial court found that Maria was “economically disadvantaged.” The couple’s divorce was granted in July of 2017 and included a provision directing Rodney to pay Maria $2500 monthly for a four year period. The mandate allocated the payments as rehabilitative alimony. This would give Maria time to return to school, obtain a degree and increase her earning power.

Meanwhile, Maria disagreed. She submitted that going back to school did not necessarily mean that she would find a job that would return her to the same standard of living she enjoyed while the couple was together. Post-divorce, there was a good chance the disparities would continue.

Upon Appeal

The court cited the Legislature’s preference for rehabilitative alimony. In theory, the concept was not without merit. However, the Appeals Court found that there was no evidence that Maria’s completion of an undergraduate degree would put her in a position to find a job that paid her well enough.

Maria’s choice of continuing education also contributed to the suggestion that it might be hard for Maria to find work. During the trial, the judge actually remarked on the idea of Maria seeking a Communications or Art degree, rather than one in Nursing or Computer Technology.

Upon consideration, the Appeals Court determined that there was no evidence supporting the idea that rehabilitative alimony for a four year period was the right solution. The case was returned to the trial court for further hearing.

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Alimony is just one of the factors considered in divorce cases. At MHPS, our attorneys are experienced in helping people go through this difficult process. Contact our office to see how we can assist you as you move on to the next chapter of your life.

Categories: Family Law
Tags: Divorce
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