Alimony can be crucial for helping people meet their needs after a divorce. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the basics of alimony and when it may be necessary to a divorce.
First, let’s address the basics of property division.
Property division in Tennessee
Tennessee law requires an “equitable distribution” of marital property in divorce. Essentially, this means that when a married couple decides to divorce, they must divide their marital property in a way that state law considers fair to both parties. For the most part, marital property consists of all assets and debts the couple acquired during the marriage. Generally speaking, anything the spouses owned before the marriage is their separate property and does not have to be divided, but there are exceptions to this rule.
In some cases, a 50-50 split of the marital property might appear fair, but others require a different division. For instance, in cases involving one spouse who had much more in the way of income and separate assets than the other, a court might find that it’s fairer to give the disadvantaged spouse a larger percentage of the marital property. This way, that spouse will have the resources they need to live independently.
When alimony is necessary
In some cases, even a generous split of the marital property is not enough to make things fair. In these cases, a court may decide alimony is necessary to help the disadvantaged spouse become financially independent.
For example, imagine Brad and Nancy married while they were medical school students. Soon after they graduated, Nancy became pregnant with twins. She decided to give up her career in order to take care of the kids and the home. Brad continued to work as a doctor and after a couple years of struggle, earns a high income that supports the family.
After eight years go by, Brad and Nancy decide to divorce. In their divorce settlement, Nancy gets 65% of the marital property.
This is a healthy percentage, but Nancy can run through the money quickly if she doesn’t get a job. The problem is that she has been out of the job market for a long time, and it won’t be easy for her to find employment in medicine, nor in any field that will help her earn a standard of living anywhere near the one she and her children enjoyed during the marriage. On top of that, Brad and Nancy’s kids are still young, and will need childcare if Nancy and Brad are both going to work.
In such a case, a court might order Brad to pay Nancy alimony. The court may decide that this is a temporary measure, intended to give Nancy enough time to get new training, or to secure a decent job.
When deciding whether Nancy should get alimony, and for how long, and how much Brad should pay, the court will consider many factors, including:
- Brad and Nancy’s separate property, earning capacity and financial needs
- The duration of the marriage
- Nancy’s contributions to helping Brad pursue his career
- The standard of living during the marriage
Deciding on your own
In the above example, we discussed how a court might decide on questions of alimony, but it’s important to note that many people don’t wait for a judge to decide all the issues in their divorce. Instead, they reach a settlement out of court. The can choose to make alimony a part of their settlement if they believe is fair.
Attorneys help people to understand their options when crafting a divorce settlement agreement. In some cases, alimony may be necessary.