Tennessee divorce law: the basics of alimony

Four kinds of alimony are available, either alone or in combination.

Alimony, the payment of support from one ex-spouse to the other, is an extremely important matter in most divorces. Receiving alimony can make a positive difference in the recipient's lifestyle as well as impose a major obligation on the paying spouse.

Tennessee's alimony law is complex as compared with those of some other states because it sets out four different types of alimony that can be awarded alone or in combination. In comparison to a handful of states with recent reforms, Tennessee judges retain wide discretion in crafting alimony awards and the possibility of a lifetime alimony award still exists.

As a practical matter, many divorcing spouses negotiate the terms of their divorces and submit their agreements to the court for incorporation into their divorce decrees. Being able to negotiate can result in creative solutions unique to the family needs and while compromise is likely necessary to come to agreement, at least the parties will have some input into the final decision. On the other hand, if alimony is left to the judge, the parties may not be as happy with the unpredictable result as they may have been if they had agreed to terms of alimony.

Tennessee judges are directed by law in deciding if alimony is proper and what the award should look like to consider "all relevant factors," including a preset list of 12:

  • Relative "earning capacity, obligations, needs, and financial resources"
  • Relative education and training, ability to secure the same, and whether either party has to get more education or training to improve earnings to a "reasonable level"
  • Marriage length
  • Ages and mental conditions
  • Physical conditions
  • Whether custody of a child will make employment undesirable
  • Separate assets
  • Property division
  • Marital standard of living
  • "Tangible and intangible contributions to the marriage" and to the career or vocational skills of the other spouse
  • Marital fault
  • Any other factor impacting the "equities between the parties," including tax impact

Tennessee cases have held that the most important of these are the payor's ability to pay, the needs of the recipient and fault, if appropriate to consider.

Here are the four kinds of Tennessee alimony:

  • Transitional: Alimony is meant to help the recipient through a temporary economic adjustment period after the divorce.
  • Rehabilitative: Alimony is received for a period that would allow the recipient to increase employability and his or her standard of living; rehabilitative alimony is preferred over the other forms.
  • Alimony in solido: A set amount of alimony is paid over a limited time until the recipient is no longer in need.
  • Alimony in futuro: This is long-term alimony of indefinite amount for the spouse with no realistic hope of economic rehabilitation.

This is only a quick introduction to Tennessee alimony law, which is quite complicated and factually dependent on the particular circumstances of the divorcing couple. Likely scenarios for how an alimony award could look can be explained by a Tennessee family lawyer.

Attorney Robert Asbury of The Law Office of Robert M. Asbury in Knoxville, Tennessee, represents clients in divorce and related issues like alimony in Knoxville, Nashville and across East Tennessee.