Spousal Support Lawyers Who Stand Up for You
Spousal support is arguably the most controversial portion of a divorce property division settlement. To some, alimony is a financial penalty that is burdensome to obligors, who are mostly men, and offensive to obligees, who are mostly women. This idea comes from the similarity of alimony to a dowry. Others just as firmly believe that spousal support is a necessary part of a financial settlement, especially in certain cases. As such, a blanket alimony prohibition could have disastrous consequences in some cases.
The compassionate Franklin, TN spousal support lawyers at Stratton Family Law understand that people on both sides of this issue have very strong feelings. We also understand that these determinations are legally complex, mostly because Tennessee’s laws in this area are subjectively based on the obligor’s ability to pay and the obligee’s financial need. So, whether you are an obligee or obligor and whether the matter is an original determination or subsequent modification, we diligently prepare your case and collect evidence which supports your positions. Then, we strongly advocate for you.
Qualifying for Alimony: The Legal Environment
Spousal support is not a given in a Franklin divorce . Judges can only award alimony if the obligee (person receiving alimony) has a demonstrated economic need. Even then, judges are legally required to award the absolute minimum required in terms of amount and duration of payments.
In many states, the spousal support legal environment has changed significantly. For example, in nearby Illinois, alimony determinations are now more like child support determinations . Fixed guidelines determine the amount and duration of spousal support payments, at least in most cases.
These shifts have not come to Tennessee, at least not directly. However, because of the overall environmental changes, judges are somewhat less reluctant to exercise their full discretion in this area.
There have also been some changes at the federal level. For many decades, alimony payments were tax-deductible for obligors and tax-reportable for obligees. The 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act essentially flipped these requirements. Alimony payments are no longer deductible, and alimony receipts are no longer part of an obligee’s reportable income.
This change has a particular bearing on some of the alimony factors, mostly the tax consequences factor. More on that below.
Amount of Payments: Factors to Consider
Concepts like “economic need” and “ability to pay” are rather abstract. Therefore, the law sets forth a number of factors in this area. Some of the major factors are examined below. As mentioned above, these factors are also relevant for qualification purposes.
- Future Earning Capacity: If one spouse has substantially less earning power, mostly due to age or health, a large alimony award might be appropriate. Lack of education or job experience is relevant, but not dispositive.
- Noneconomic Educational or Career Contributions: If Rob agrees to stay home with the children while Laura attends medical school, Rob has an equitable right to a higher standard of living based on Laura’s increased earning power. If their marriage ends before that higher standard of living occurs, Rob may be entitled to some additional financial considerations.
- Fault in the Breakup of the Marriage: Tennessee is one of the few states where marital misconduct, such as adultery, is relevant in the property division or spousal support phase. If the parties are in the midst of a no-fault divorce, which is usually the case, one spouse must establish misconduct by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
- Tax Implications: The tax law change could affect the obligor’s ability to pay. Laura might argue that, since her alimony payments are no longer tax-deductible, she cannot afford to pay Rob as much. That argument could have more to do with Laura’s willingness (or unwillingness) to pay, as opposed to her ability to pay.
- Agreements Between the Parties: Most judges approve most alimony-limiting premarital agreements and out-of-court property settlements, as long as both sides had effective representation throughout the process and the agreement is not blatantly one-sided.
These same factors govern amount-of-payment determinations in alimony modification matters, as outlined below.
Duration of Payments: Types of Alimony
The aforementioned factors typically consider the obligor’s ability to pay and the obligee’s economic need. The various types of alimony usually only account for economic need.
- Transitional Alimony: While the divorce is pending, many obligees need help with everyday expenses, as well as divorce-related expenses like attorneys’ fees. That’s especially true if the obligee was the nonfiling spouse. Transitional alimony usually ends once the judge finalizes the divorce.
- Rehabilitative Alimony: Some spouses must complete a college degree to become competitive or accept a low-paying position to re-enter the workforce. Judges typically order rehabilitative alimony in these cases, and these payments generally last about two or three years. Many judges require obligees to file rehabilitation plans, and stick with them.
- Periodic Alimony: Transitional and rehabilitative alimony are designed to help obligees become economically self-sufficient. Periodic alimony equalizes the standard of living between the former spouses. These payments are generally only available if, perhaps due to a disability, the obligee cannot become self-sufficient.
Alimony in solido (alimony in a lump sum) is also available. At the time of divorce, the judge orders the obligor to pay a lump sum to cover the obligee’s future economic needs. Alimony in solido is generally payable in installments.
Spousal Support Modifications: Changed Circumstances
All these factors and scenarios usually change over time. These changes could be financial or emotional. Either one could justify a spousal support modification.
Financial changes usually involve the obligor’s reduced earnings or the obligee’s increased earnings. Failure to follow a rehabilitation plane, if applicable, could also play a part here.
The financial change must be documented, unanticipated, and permanent. Direct evidence of financial changes includes tax returns and paystubs. Circumstantial evidence includes lifestyle changes, such as a new car or a downsized residence. Retirement is usually an anticipated change, so retirement might not justify a reduction. The larger or smaller income must also be permanent, as opposed to a fluctuation.
Emotional changes usually involve the obligee’s remarriage. That event usually terminates a spousal support obligation. A marriage-like relationship might do the same thing. Circumstantial evidence on this point includes the length of the relationship. The extent of financial mixing, like a joint bank account, and major joint purchases.
In Tennessee, spousal support determinations and redeterminations are quite complex. For a free consultation with an experienced Franklin family law attorney , contact Stratton Family Law.