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Tennessee Alimony

Alimony is generally called maintenance in Tennessee and can be paid by either spouse. Tennessee law allows a court to order alimony or spousal support upon dissolution of marriage if it is necessary or makes the divorce more equitable. The court determines alimony on a case-by-case basis.

When the spouses do not agree about alimony, the court considers a variety of factors to determine its amount, or if it is even appropriate. The factors include, but are not limited to, the property each party owns, incomes, dependent children, the age of each spouse, and earning potential.

Tennessee alimony awards are limited or permanent although the duration differs from case to case. In Tennessee, rehabilitative spousal support is favored. For that reason, payments may include expenses for job training and education. Long-term support may, however, be ordered in proper cases.

Either party can ask the court to change or modify an award of spousal support by showing that there has been a "substantial and material change of circumstances," according to Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-5-121. A substantial and material change of circumstances usually means changes in income levels or health problems.

Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-3-501 allows couples to enter into and use prenuptial agreements, contracts by which the spouses agree to the terms and conditions of divorce (alimony and property distribution) before getting married.

A material change of circumstances is grounds for petitioning the court to order a termination or modification of alimony. The remarriage of a receiving spouse or cohabitation is often sufficient. Changes in earnings of either spouse may also warrant modification.

Tennessee courts may consider the fault of either or both parties in the breakdown of the marriage in granting alimony.

Federal law requires that a spouse receiving mandated alimony payments report them as income for tax purposes. The paying spouse may also claim the payments as a deduction.

Support payments may be deducted from federal taxes, and the recipient must pay income tax on the payments.

Types of Alimony

In Tennessee, courts may order temporary, short- and long-term alimony. Temporary alimony is granted at the discretion of the court during the divorce proceedings and before the final decree. Short-term alimony may be granted to allow the receiving party time to gain necessary skills. Long-term, or permanent, maintenance may be granted to a spouse who has significant needs, and is usually reserved for lengthy marriages.

Factors Considered by the Court

The courts have latitude in deciding whether alimony is to be a temporary or permanent order.

Tennessee courts also have discretion in determining if prenuptial agreements are binding, and their impact on an award of alimony. The court determines if the agreement was entered in good faith.

In deciding alimony, according to the Tennessee Code - Volume 6A, Title 36, Sections 36-4-101, the court considers:

  • the value of any separate or marital property owned by the spouses;
  • whether the spouse seeking alimony is the custodian of a child whose circumstances make it appropriate for that spouse not to seek outside employment;
  • the need for sufficient education and training to enable the spouse to find appropriate employment;
  • the standard of living while married;
  • the length of the marriage;
  • the comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market and any retirement, pension, or profit-sharing benefits;
  • the needs and obligations of each spouse;
  • the contributions each spouse made to the marriage and the acquisition of marital assets;
  • the relative education and training of the spouses and the opportunity of each party to secure education and training;
  • the age of the spouses;
  • the health condition of the spouse;
  • the tax ramifications of any award;
  • the usual occupation of the spouses during the marriage;
  • the job skills and employability of the spouse seeking alimony;
  • the marital conduct of the spouses during the marriage; and
  • any other factor the court deems just and equitable.

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