Tennessee Court of Appeals Affirms Alimony Award in Henderson v. Henderson

In a recent decision, Henderson v. Henderson, Tenn. Ct. App. (2014), the Tennessee Court of Appeals engaged in an in-depth overview of two central divorce law issues:  alimony and division of marital property. Since the discussion was so in-depth, we will discuss this case in two separate posts in the order in which the Tennessee Court of Appeals decided them. First, we will discuss the alimony aspect of the case.

The Award of Alimony in Futuro

In this case, the husband and wife were married for over 20 years when the wife filed for divorce, on the grounds of improper marital conduct, or in the alternative irreconcilable differences. The husband filed an answer and counter complaint, seeking a divorce on the same grounds. The couple had two children, ages 17 and 19.

The trial court granted the divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and awarded the wife alimony in futuro, and it divided the marital assets. The husband appealed, challenging the type of alimony awarded and also the division of marital assets (to be discussed in a future post).

The wife took some college courses after high school, which included earning her cosmetology license. She has been working in her mother’s salon for some time, and she has worked some other part-time jobs since then. She stated that she has been unable to find other work and currently makes $650 a month.

The husband graduated from college with a science degree relevant to his job as a soil specialist. In addition to his job, for which he earns somewhere around $100,000 a year, he also has the capacity to make around $25,000 a year from his personal soil consultation business.

The wife also suffered some disabling injuries in a fall a few years ago, which required surgery and physical therapy. In addition to lasting limitations due to that accident, she also suffers from arthritis.

The husband argued that the court should have awarded the wife either rehabilitative or transitional alimony rather than in futuro, and that the award should be reduced to $750 a month, which he claimed is the most he can afford to pay. He also argued that she could earn more in a month than she currently does.

The court of appeals then dove into an extensive discussion of the different types of alimony under Tennessee law, which are rehabilitative alimony, alimony in futuro, alimony in solido, and transitional alimony.

The factors that the trial courts are to consider in determining whether to award alimony and if so, in what amount, include:

  • The relative earning capacity, financial resources (including pension, retirement plans, etc.), obligations, and needs of each party;
  • The relative education and training of each party;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The age and mental state of each of the parties;
  • The physical state of each party, including such things as physical disability, or limitations due to chronic diseases, etc.;
  • Whether it would be undesirable for a party to seek employment outside the home– e.g., if the party will be the primary caretaker for a minor child, etc.;
  • The separate assets of each party, including personal property, real estate, etc.;
  • The manner in which the marital property is dealt with;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The extent of contributions each party made during the marriage– including monetary, as a homemaker, tangible and intangible, and contributions that allowed the other party to pursue further education or training, etc.;
  • The relative fault of the parties, when appropriate to the case; and
  • Any other factors necessary to reach a fair decision, such as tax consequences to each of the parties, etc.

In this case, the court of appeals found the trial court correctly noted in its decision that out of all of these, the two most important factors are the disadvantaged spouse’s need for the support and the obligor spouse’s ability to pay.

After discussing the different types of alimony, the court awarded the wife alimony in future in the amount of $2,100 per month. The court explained:

Wife’s financial needs are great; and Husband has the ability to pay a sufficient amount of support to Wife. The Court further finds Wife cannot be rehabilitated, or able to achieve an earning capacity that will permit her [to attain the] standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, or to the Husband’s expected post-divorce standard of living.

Alimony in futuro is appropriate when the disadvantaged spouse cannot feasibly be economically rehabilitated and long-term support is necessary.

The wife took care of the children and contributed as a homemaker throughout the marriage, allowing her husband to work longer hours and complete a continuing education course. This also allowed him to promote to a higher seniority, which was accompanied by increases in his salary earnings. The wife makes a fraction of what the husband makes, and due to her injuries and stage in life, will not be able to earn substantially more. Furthermore, the wife’s expenses are minimal, and the husband did not contest any of her expenses. Additionally, the private school tuition that the husband is paying should decrease as one child graduates, and then in a few years the other child will graduate, lowering his expenses substantially. Therefore, the evidence supports the trial court’s findings, and the husband failed to show the trial court abused its discretion, so the monthly alimony award of $2,100 a month was affirmed.

Divorce is a trying and emotional experience for a family, especially if children are involved. The attorneys at MHPS, PLLC have extensive experience in all aspects of family law, from complex divorces, when the marital estate contains substantial assets, to more straightforward proceedings. If you or a loved one needs assistance in a family law matter, call us at (615) 800-7096, or contact us through this website.

Previous Post
Witnessing Requirements for Wills under Tennessee Law
Next Post
Federal Court Sides with Tennessee Family in Wrongful Death Case