Years after settling a divorce, the parties involved may experience a change in financial circumstances that requires a modification of spousal support. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently addressed this issue in Hauf v. Hauf (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 26, 2016), after an ex-wife appealed an order by the lower court reducing alimony payments from her ex-husband from $1,500 to $900.
In Hauf, the parties had divorced in 2010 after 27 years of marriage. Pursuant to the parties’ Marital Dissolution Agreement, the husband agreed to pay alimony in futuro in the amount of $1,500 per month. At the time of the divorce, the husband worked as a pilot for military contractors in the Middle East, under yearly contracts that required him to be overseas for 60 days at a time. When the contract period was extended to 90 days overseas, he chose not to renew the employment contract. The husband subsequently filed a petition to amend his alimony and support obligations on the ground that his income would be reduced. The lower court granted the petition and lowered his obligation to $900, finding that the husband did not have the ability to work a 90-day rotation and had experienced a substantial and material change in circumstances.
Alimony in futuro is a form of long-term spousal support that can be awarded when the court finds that there is a relative economic disadvantage and that rehabilitation is not feasible. In Tennessee, a party seeking to modify an alimony award must prove that a substantial and material change in circumstances has occurred. A change in circumstances is considered substantial if it significantly affects either the ability to pay or the need for support. A change in circumstances is material when it occurs after the alimony order and was unforeseeable at the time the parties entered into a property settlement agreement.
On appeal, the court found that the evidence did not support the lower court’s conclusion that the husband no longer had the ability to do a 90-day rotation overseas. In particular, the court noted testimony in which the husband admitted that no physical or mental inability prevented him from working full-time, and the overseas job was available to him, but he wanted to take a break. The appeals court held that the change in the length of the overseas rotation, standing alone, did not constitute a material change.
The appeals court went on to analyze the husband’s income and expenses, noting that even with the decrease in income, his monthly expenses, including alimony, only outweighed his income by $55. The court also observed that he spent $140,000 on the purchase of additional property and living expenses. This led the court to conclude that the evidence did not demonstrate a substantial and material change in circumstances but instead a voluntary decision on the husband’s part to decrease his income. Accordingly, the court reversed the reduction in alimony and reinstated his previous obligation of $1,500 a month.
At the Nashville firm of Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, we pride ourselves on our strong commitment to clients as well as high-quality legal services. Our family law attorneys can provide representation and guidance to individuals involved in divorce proceedings, child custody disputes, spousal support issues, and more. To discuss your concerns with one of our experienced lawyers, call our office at (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.