The basics of Tennessee’s complex alimony law

The Volunteer State provides spousal maintenance to divorcing spouses after consideration of relevant factors.

One of the most important issues in any divorce is whether alimony, also called spousal support or maintenance, will be ordered to be paid from one spouse to the other as a means of support. Tennessee's alimony statute and the case law interpreting it create complicated legal issues that must be resolved in every divorce (or legal separation).

Because of the importance of the financial impact of alimony payments on the parties' postmarital standard of living and because of the law's legal complexity, it is smart to retain a lawyer with substantial experience in Tennessee family law. Legal counsel will assist the client in analyzing the client's circumstances in light of the applicable alimony standards. The attorney will try to negotiate a resolution to the issue (and the others involved) with the other party (normally through that person's attorney) in an effort to create a comprehensive settlement agreement.

Should agreement not be reached on the alimony question, the issue will be decided by the state court judge assigned to the divorce. Understanding Tennessee spousal support law is important whether the judge resolves it or as a guide to negotiations.

Basically, Tennessee requires consideration of a list of factors to determine spousal maintenance in light of family circumstances. Four kinds of alimony are allowed, either alone or in combination.

Elements impacting alimony

The specific list of factors the court must weigh:

  • Each spouse's earning capacity, debts, needs, resources and income from all sources
  • Each party's education and training, "ability and opportunity" to get education and training, and whether it is necessary for either to get more education and training to obtain a reasonable earning capacity
  • Length of marriage
  • Each person's age and "mental condition"
  • Each spouse's physical health
  • Whether it would be "undesirable" for a spouse with custody of a minor child to work outside the home
  • Each person's separate property (owned by one of them before marriage or received as an individual by gift or inheritance)
  • The division of marital property in the divorce
  • The marital standard of living
  • Contributions of one to the other toward career advancement as well as of "monetary and homemaker contributions" to the marriage
  • The "relative fault" of the spouses, if appropriate (a consideration some states do not allow)
  • Tax ramifications and anything else impacting the "equities between the parties"

Types of alimony

The types of maintenance allowed, alone or in combination:

  • Rehabilitative: Preferred under the law; meant to rehabilitate the "economically disadvantaged" spouse, meaning to receive rehabilitative alimony so that with reasonable effort, the recipient can earn enough to either reach the marital standard of living or at least the living standards the other spouse will have after divorce
  • Alimony in futuro, also called periodic: Long-term or permanent until the receiver dies or remarries, or in some cases when he or she moves in with another person; appropriate when rehabilitation is not feasible or only partially reachable
  • Transitional: Appropriate when rehabilitation is unnecessary, but there will be an economic adjustment period; has set ending date
  • Alimony in solido, also called lump sum: long-term maintenance of a set amount payable in lump sum or installments; can cover legal fees

This is only an overview of Tennessee alimony law, which is very detailed. A lawyer can answer questions about maintenance and other issues related to divorce.

Attorney Jeffrey H. Jones of The Law Office of Jeffrey Jones in Bartlett represents divorce clients in the Memphis metropolitan area, throughout Shelby County and across West Tennessee.