Especially in a marriage of long duration, one spouse or the other is often going to be required to pay alimony in futuro – that’s a monthly alimony payment of a specific amount, payable to the other spouse for the indefinite future. The amount of the alimony paid depends on certain factors – you can read about those factors in our article (put link here).
To get alimony modified, the person who wants the change has to show a “substantial and material change in circumstances” of the parties. That means that something important must have changed in one of the party’s economic situation since the entry of the first alimony judgment. Once you show that change, then the Court revisits the whole question.
Courts do not generally relieve someone of an obligation to pay alimony if they do something voluntarily to reduce their income – like quit a job for instance. In the past, Tennessee Courts have equated retiring to quitting a job, and have refused to allow the retiree to pay less in alimony.
But in recent years, Tennessee courts have concluded that the payor’s voluntary retirement is a substantial and material change justifying someone’s request to modify an alimony award. Here’s what the Court of Appeals says:
“Retirement from further employment in the workforce is always voluntary and foreseeable because, at some point, every worker will eventually retire. Moreover, taken to its logical extreme, this standard would force an obligor to work until physically incapable of doing so merely to avoid the allegation that he or she was “voluntarily avoiding spousal obligations. While the traditional standards regulating modification of support agreements should usually be applied to motivate parties to provide for such contingencies in their dissolution agreement, strict application of these standards in the retirement context can work unreasonable hardships.”
In a sentence: Just because a spouse owes alimony doesn’t mean they can’t retire.
But that’s not the end of the analysis. To be entitled to a reduction in alimony, the retiree still has to prove that a reduction in alimony is warranted, given the relative needs and finances of both spouses, and the other factors that governed the initial alimony award. These factors are contained at T.C.A. 36-5-101(d). But there’s one crucial difference: In an initial alimony award, the need of the receiving spouse is the most important consideration for the court. Once the retiree shows a good reason to retire, then ability of the paying spouse is given equal consideration.
The thing about long marriages is that people are older when they get divorced – and that means one or the other of them is likely going to want to retire while their alimony obligation is still ongoing. This problem has been the subject of a great deal of litigation. The person who is paying wants some relief from that debt, and the person who is receiving the alimony wants to keep getting their money. It takes a good alimony lawyer to protect either party’s interest.
Whether you are considering retirement, but don’t know how you can afford to pay alimony, or if your X is threatening to retire, and you are worried about how you are going to make ends meet, we are here to help.