Alimony is a check paid to support the ex-spouse, unlike child support, which is a check paid to the other parent to help support a child. T.C.A. 36-5-121 states that in any divorce or legal separation, a court may award alimony, and if it isn’t paid, then the receiving spouse can execute on the paying spouse’s assets or ask for jail time. Courts can also adjust alimony awards up or down when a spouse shows changes in their circumstances.
This can be a source of stress if you are going to be cutting that check to your spouse, or a source of relief for the economically disadvantaged spouse trying to start fresh post-divorce. It’s all in how you look at it.
So, who gets alimony?
A spouse gets alimony by showing they are “economically disadvantaged.” In reality, the economically disadvantaged spouse is almost always the stay-at-home parent, who the General Assembly has said deserves alimony to compensate them for their intangible but real contributions to the family unit. Officially, courts order alimony when:
- One spouse has more earning capacity than the other.
- One spouse has more economic need than the other.
- One spouse has more financial resources than the other.
- One spouse has more education and training than the other.
- The marriage lasted a long time (generally more than ten years).
- One spouse is older than the other.
- One spouse is less mentally healthy than the other.
- One spouse is sicker than the other.
- One spouse has more separate assets than the other, like an inheritance.
- One spouse is getting plenty of money from the marital assets and may not need more.
- Both spouses should have comparable living conditions post-divorce.
- One spouse contributed more than the other (home-maker contributions count).
- One spouse is a jerk and the other one isn’t.
- Other factors, like one person getting taxed on their income but the other one isn’t.
When a judge goes through these factors, some things are going to weigh in favor of an alimony award and some will weigh against it. Judges consider the financial need of the spouse asking for alimony more than anything else. This may or may not be fair. If a stay-at-home mom makes ends meet by clipping coupons, she may not have as much “need” as a mom who gets her nails done every two weeks. Yet, that second mom may have a stronger claim for alimony. It’s all in how your lawyer presents the case. Judges have tremendous discretion in awarding alimony, so your lawyer’s job is to present the case, for or against alimony in a compelling fashion to that particular judge on that particular day.