Not all Alimony Awards are Created Equal

Posted by Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC on February 15, 2019

Alimony might not be a consideration in every divorce case. However, it becomes an issue when one spouse demonstrates evidence of economic disadvantage. Although spousal support awards fall into four separate categories, they may be combined. With that in mind, you should know – not all alimony awards are created equal.

You may be shaking your head. Assuredly, you know that everyone’s financial situation differs. However, it’s not just a matter of time and money when it comes to spousal support. When the court awards alimony, the guidelines come directly from the state code.

TN Code § 36-5-121 provides the legal language concerning the different types of alimony. They are broken down as follows:

  • Alimony in Solido or Lump Sum Alimony
  • Alimony in Futuro or Periodic Alimony
  • Rehabilitative Alimony
  • Transitional Alimony (when rehabilitation is not necessary)

Some disputes regarding alimony focus on the type of award. For example, a spouse might debate whether his or her ex needs further education or training to make it alone. Thus, an award for Rehabilitative Alimony could find the couple before the Appeals Court.

At the end of last year, the Appeals Court considered another issue. It seems the trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife periodic alimony. Why did the Appeals Court modify the judgment to an award for transitional alimony?

Alimony Awards Can be Changed

The court delivered its written opinion in Finstad v. Finstad on October 19, 2018. According to the facts of the case, the Finstads married in March of 2003 and had three children together.

Jessica Finstad filed for a legal separation on February 23, 2015. At that time, she submitted agreements signed by both she and Daniel Finstad. The court approved the parenting plan but held off on the marital dissolution agreement.

Prior to entry of a legal separation order, Daniel Finstad filed for divorce and raised concerns about paying alimony. Jessica asked the court to order Daniel to pay her $905 per month for five years and $600 per month until the husband retired or died. This type of spousal support falls under the category of Alimony in Futuro.

During the trial, both parties provided testimony concerning their income and monthly expenses. Jessica ran an in-home daycare and also worked at a fast food restaurant every other week. Her monthly income totaled approximately $1,100. In the past, she ran a UPS store.

The court reviewed Jessica’s income, as well as money she received from Daniel. After expenses, her numbers came down significantly.

In the meantime, Daniel testified concerning his net monthly income of $5,351.71 and monthly expenses. Ultimately, he represented that his take-home pay reduces by 50% because of monies he pays to Jessica. (This included child support, alimony, car payments, car insurance, and health insurance.)

Wife Awarded Alimony in Futuro

Since their separation, Daniel claimed to have already paid Jessica over $69K.  Nonetheless, he agreed to pay the wife as she transitioned from the marriage. Daniel offered a combined total of five years of alimony. Daniel also stated that he would pay off the wife’s car and insurance for the next 42 months. Additionally, Daniel offered to continue paying for Jessica’s health insurance for two additional years.

When the trial court signed the divorce decree, the judge determined that Jessica was economically disadvantaged and that Daniel could afford spousal support. Additionally, the couple previously discussed a long-term alimony award. The final order for divorce required Daniel to make alimony payments of $905 for 42 months. Subsequently, the payments would reduce to $600 monthly.

Daniel appealed the award of alimony in futuro. For one, there was no proof that Jessica was underemployed. Additionally, the record did not support evidence that further training or education would qualify Jessica for rehabilitative alimony to increase her earning capacity.

The Appeals Court did not dispute that Jessica needed some alimony as she made the transition after divorce. The original judgment modified the award mandating Daniel to pay $600 monthly in transitional alimony payments for five years.

Contact Us

Need a clearer understanding of how alimony works in Tennessee? At Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC, we recognize the importance of educating our clients. Contact us to discuss your circumstances and learn how our experience can work for you.

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