Dec 21

When Is Alimony In Futuro Inappropriate?

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The Tennessee Court of Appeals at Jackson, in Holdsworth v. Holdsworth, 2015 Tenn. App. LEXIS 424 recently considered whether the trial court’s award of alimony in futuro of $4000 a month until her death or remarriage was appropriate. The parties were married about 17 years before the Husband filed for divorce. They had one child together during the marriage. In July 2013, the trial court, among other things, awarded the Wife the $4,000 per month as alimony in futuro and also $461,586 as alimony in solido to reimburse her for attorney’s fees and expenses.

On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed as to the award of alimony in futuro, holding that the Wife was a candidate instead for transitional alimony. It remanded for the trial court to determine the appropriate amount of transitional alimony to be awarded to the Wife. The Court also reversed the attorney fees award and declined to award either party attorney’s fees.

In the appellate court opinion, the Court sets forth facts where the Wife had a Master’s Degree of Science in Social Work, and Husband a Master’s of Busienss Administration degree in Financial and Estate Planning. The Wife worked until 2005 with the public school system as a social worker and then took full-time care of her ill mother, and the parties’ child born in 2007. Husband did well earning over $100,000 a year.

The Court pointed out that alimony in futuro is appropriate when the economically disadvantaged spouse cannot achieve self-sufficiency and economic rehabilitation is not feasible. Tenn. Code Ann. 36-5-121(f)(1). After reviewing the evidence, the Court found that the Wife was capable of rehabilitation. Factors it considered were her relatively young age of 43 years old; lack of any health conditions; and her Master’s Degree. While she had been out of the workforce for seven years, the Court found that she did have prior work experience in her field as a licensed clinical social worker. Wife had testified that she anticipated eventually earning $40,000 to $50,000 a year in private practice.

However, the Court of Appeals further held that Wife should be awarded transitional alimony during the time she said it would take to grow her practice. Transitional alimony is designed to aid a spouse who already possesses the capacity for self-sufficiency but needs financial assistance in adjusting to the economic consequences of establishing and maintinaing a household without the benefit of the other spouse’s income. Therefore, the Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the trial court to determine the amount and length of a transitional alimony award for the Wife bearing in mind that she said it would take about five years to grow her client base.

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