May 24, 2012

Alimony clarified....or not?

Lawyers, judges, and divorce clients paid close attention to the Tennessee Supreme Court ruling in the Gonsewski v. Gonsewski, 350 S.W.3d 99 (2011) decision regarding long-term alimony. Gonsewski is a case where both spouses have college degrees and well-paying jobs. Mrs. Gonsewski made an upward of $72,000.00 per year, while Mr. Gonsewski was making $137,418 per year.  They had been married for 21 years and both were 43 years old when the divorce was filed. In the divorce complaint, the wife asked for temporary and permanent alimony.

In Tennessee, there are four types of alimony.  The most common type is known as rehabilitative alimony which grants alimony to the disadvantaged spouse for a set period of time that is designed to rehabilitate them to obtain higher education or training.  The next type of alimony is transitional alimony which is very similar to rehabilitative alimony but is specifically designed to help the disadvantaged spouse transition from the marital home to being on their own. The third kind is alimony in solido which is awarded as a long-term type of alimony or given in a lump sum of money. The last type of alimony is the most well known called alimony in futuro. This type of alimony is alimony that is long-term and lasts until the death or remarriage of the alimony recipient. Alimony in futuro is most common in long-term marriages when either the disadvantaged spouse can no longer find employment due to age or being a full time caretaker. The issue of whether to award alimony has been a vague area in Tennessee divorce law for years.   

In the ground-breaking Gonsewski case the trial court did not award any alimony—neither rehabilitative nor alimony in futuro to Mrs. Gonsewski because the court determined that Mrs. Gonsewski had a stable job and earned a good income.  The Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed this decision based upon the disparity between the parties' income and awarded Mrs. Gonsewski alimony in futuro in the amount of $1,250.00 until her death or remarriage.  Then the case went to the Supreme Court of Tennessee. Lawyers and judges anxiously awaited the Supreme Court’s ruling. In September 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court's decision not to award any alimony. 

The Tennessee Supreme Court reasoned that Mrs. Gonsewski had a stable income, was relatively young, educated, and had no mental or physical impairments that restricted her from obtaining a higher income.

Alimony remains a grey area in divorce law.  There are many factors used to determine whether a spouse should be awarded any form of alimony.  

While, the Gonsewski decision did shed some light on what it takes to be a recipient of long-term or alimony in future, there is still no definitive answer.  


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