Tennessee Divorce – Supreme Court Reverses Award of Long Term Alimony
In a recent decision the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the Tennessee Court of Appeals and held that in the divorce case of Johanna L. Gonsewski v. Craig W. Gonsewski that alimony in futuro was not appropriate. Mrs. Gonsewski filed a complaint for divorce in 2007 requesting alimony both temporary and permanent. The evidence indicated that the parties were married for twenty-one (21) years, and throughout the marriage both the husband and wife worked. In the year before the divorce the husband’s earnings were approximately $65,000.00 more than the wife’s earnings of $72,000 per year. The wife has a degree in information technology and works for the State of Tennessee.
In this case the wife had been awarded and received alimony pendente lite in the amount of $1206 per month and received this amount for the sixteen months that the divorce was pending in the trial court. The argument over permanent alimony was framed in this way: The disparity in income between the parties, and the wife’s belief that she was entitled to be afforded the same lifestyle that she enjoyed during the marriage were at the core. The trial court divided the martial assets equitably and denied the wife’s request for periodic alimony.
On appeal the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and focused on the disparity in incomes between the parties. The Court of Appeals reasoned that although there was no need for economic rehabilitation of the wife, that permanent alimony was the only way to mitigate harsh economic realities of divorce. The Supreme Court reversed the appeals court holding that 1) the trial court has broad discretion in matters of awards of spousal support which should not be disturbed unless there has been a manifest abuse of discretion; 2) the Tennessee legislature has pronounced a preference for other forms of spousal support, alimony, other than long term periodic alimony; 3) that in this case although there is a disparity in income, the reality of divorce often results in a change in lifestyle for both parties- as two can live cheaper together then the two separately. In this case it was well established that the wife with a college degree and steady employment over a sixteen year period was able to maintain a reasonably adequate lifestyle. The Supreme Court also rejected the argument that alimony in solido should be awarded to compensate wife for her attorneys fees and costs, holding that both parties contributed to these litigation expenses.
It is also important to note that the husband’s higher income was in part due to performance based bonuses which were not guaranteed. There was also no evidence of whether or not the wife could or could not do anything different to increase her earnings. In other words wife did not prove that she was capped at her income level of $72000 per year, and could not earn more by changing jobs.
Alimony in Tennessee Divorce
In Tennessee divorce alimony awards have become less frequent, as this case illustrates. The Supreme Court has again indicated that the purpose of alimony is not to provide an equal lifestyle post-divorce, but rather to provide spousal support primarily in cases of an economically disadvantaged spouse. For instance, a wife who does not have a degree and does not have the ability to provide adequately for herself . If the wife could be rehabilitated over a reasonable period of time then rehabilitative alimony should be the preference of the trial court – provide spousal support for a limited time to allow for education, job training, etc., with the ultimate goal being self-sufficiency.
If you are going through a divorce, or contemplating divorce, seek the advice of an experienced family law divorce attorney. Purple Law Firm divorce attorneys are experienced in both obtaining alimony awards and in successfully defending requests for alimony.