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Tennessee court decision on alimony will affect future decisions

The Tennessee Supreme Court overturned a lower court's decision to award lifetime alimony in the amount of $15,000 per year to a woman. The highly anticipated decision was unanimous in ruling that lifetime alimony is inappropriate when the receiving spouse is healthy, makes good money and has received substantial assets in the division of marital property.

The underlying case involved a couple who divorced in 2009. The wife had a salary of $72,000 per year working in information technology. Her husband earned $137,000 per year with a $38,000 bonus.

The county judge did not award any alimony for the wife. He was reversed by the Court of Appeals who ordered the husband to pay his ex-wife $1,250 per month. The Supreme Court's reasoning in overruling this award is that no two people can be expected to truly attain the same standard of living they enjoyed when together, especially when the prior household had two incomes.

Rather, the Supreme Court and the state laws favor temporary alimony awards. These awards help ease the transition from married life to singlehood. This kind of temporary support also helps spouses that may have been previously unemployed or domestic caretakers until they are able to receive the training they need to obtain a well-paying job.

The Tennessee Supreme Court determined that the wife was able to support herself on her income and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to award her alimony at the trial court level. The Court reasoned that lifetime alimony should be reserved to cases in which a spouse "would have difficulty achieving self-sufficiency due to factors such as age or a prolonged absence from the workforce."

The ruling is expected to influence future family law courts' decisions regarding the property division. This decision certainly clarifies this area of the law and will provide guidance to judges, lawyers and parties.

Source: The Tennessean, "Reversal of lifetime alimony will shape divorce awards," Brandon Gee, Sept. 18, 2011

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