Alimony—or, spousal support—is a court-ordered payment that one spouse provides to the other during the divorce or for a period after.
There are four types of alimony judges can award in Tennessee:
Rehabilitative alimony. The purpose of rehabilitative alimony is to allow a spouse the opportunity to increase earning capacity by attending school, job training, or acquiring other essential skills that will lead to finding employment and achieving financial independence. Although complete financial freedom may not be possible, the goal is for the supported spouse to be rehabilitated enough to establish a standard of living as close to the marital standard as possible. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121(e).)
Alimony in futuro (also called periodic alimony). Alimony in futuro is a long-term (and sometimes, permanent) support order that's appropriate in cases where the supported spouse is unable to earn enough to become self-supporting. For example, a court may award alimony in futuro when a spouse left the workforce to raise a family and is now disabled and unable to work, attend school, or acquire essential job skills to find a job. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121 (f).)
Transitional alimony. The judge will award transitional alimony in cases where a supported spouse doesn't need rehabilitation but needs financial support while adjusting to a new post-divorce standard of living. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121 (g).)
Alimony in solido (also called lump-sum alimony). Alimony in solido is a form of long-term support. The judge will determine a total amount of support on the date of the divorce, and the paying spouse will typically pay in installment payments over a specific period of time. The court sometimes awards alimony in solido to cover the supported spouse's legal expenses in the divorce, as well as post-divorce needs. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121 (h).)
Alimony is gender-neutral, meaning either spouse can request it in the divorce process. However, before deciding the type, amount, duration, and payment method for alimony, the judge must consider all the following factors:
The court doesn't place emphasis on any single factor, and the judge will use broad discretion when creating a final award. If you and your spouse prefer to have control over the amount, type, and duration of alimony, you can negotiate and create a settlement together. As long as the agreement is fair to both spouses, the court will honor it.
Once the court determines the type and amount of support, the judge will decide how long alimony should last. There is no hard and fast rule for judges to follow when assigning a timeline for support, but generally:
Rehabilitative alimony. Rehabilitative alimony lasts for as long as the court deems necessary for the supported spouse to complete training or educational requirements to be marketable in the workforce. If the recipient needs to extend support beyond the court's initial term, that spouse must ask the court for a review. Rehabilitative support terminates when either spouse dies.
Alimony in futuro. Alimony in futuro may be short- or long-term, depending on the supported spouse's needs and the paying spouse's ability to continue to pay. Alimony will continue until the date ordered by the court or until the supported spouse remarries, the paying spouse dies, or in some cases, when the supported spouse lives with a third-party.
Transitional alimony. Transitional support ends on the date set by the court, if either spouse dies, or if the supported spouse remarries. Due to the temporary nature of transitional support, the court may place other conditions on the support, such as cohabitation by the supported spouse.
Alimony in solido. Lump-sum support ends when the paying spouse makes the final payment of support. The court does not terminate alimony in solido if either spouse dies, remarries, or lives with a third-party.
Unless both spouses agreed, in writing, that neither would ask for a review of support later, the court may review, modify (change), or terminate any support order in the future. Specifically, Tennessee law states that the court may modify or terminate rehabilitative and alimony in futuro if the requesting party demonstrates a substantial and material change of circumstances. For example, if the paying spouse involuntarily loses a job due to a health crisis, the court may suspend, modify, or terminate the order.
The court can only modify a transitional alimony award if the spouses agree in writing to allow modifications in the future, the court states explicitly that the order is modifiable, or if the recipient of support lives with a third party.
Alimony in solido is nonmodifiable unless the spouses agree otherwise.
The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the valuable tax deduction for alimony payments for all alimony agreements and/or court orders finalized after December 31, 2018. It also removes the reporting requirement for the supported spouse. If you're unsure how alimony will impact your tax return, speak with an experienced attorney in your area.