Trial Courts Given Broad Discretion in Tennessee Divorces

April 2, 2012
By The McKellar Law Firm, PLLC on April 2, 2012 9:55 AM |

In Chavez v. Chavez, No. M2010-02123-COA-R3-CV, the Husband and Wife filed for divorce in 2008 in Montgomery County. Each alleged irreconcilable differences and inappropriate marital conduct; later, both complaints were amended to include adultery. A divorce was granted in 2010 based on Husband's "developing and fostering a relationship with another woman" and Wife's "engaging in alcohol and drug abuse." Wife was designated primary residential parent. The home was ordered sold with profits going to the Wife, each party was awarded their separate retirement accounts and marital property and debt was divided. The Husband was ordered to pay transitional alimony in the amount of $1,800.00 for four years and alimony in solido of $90,000.00 over six years. Also, Husband was ordered to pay child support in the amount of $1653.00 monthly. Husband appealed.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling concerning the primary parent designation and the alimony. This decision shows Tennessee Divorce attorneys that trial courts have a broad discretion in matters concerning child custody, visitation, and alimony.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals found that the lower court here did not abuse its discretion. In its review, the Court of Appeals applied the abuse of discretion standard, stated as "An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court causes an injustice by applying an incorrect legal standard, reaches an illogical result, resolves the case on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or relies on reasoning that causes an injustice."

In reviewing the primary residential parent designation, the trial court considered many factors. Those factors are located in T.C.A. § 36-6-106. After the court's analysis of these factors, the parents were found to fairly equal; however, the trial court awarded Wife primary parent status due to the Husband's job and Wife's testimony. Husband's travel is excessive in regards to providing a stable home for their children, especially the daughter. The trial court's decision is supported by a preponderance of evidence and was not an abuse of discretion. In the end, it was in the best interest of the children to reside with the Wife.

In regards to transitional alimony, the trial court considered the guidelines set out in T.C.A. § 36-5-121(g)(1). T.C.A. § 36-5-121(i) "instructs the court to consider all relevant factors in determining whether spousal support is appropriate and in determining the nature, amount, length of term, and manner of payment..." The single most important factor is the "need of the disadvantaged spouse seeking support, followed by the ability of the obligor spouse to pay support." Here, husband made four times the income of Wife. Husband's basic argument on appeal was the alimony is excessive and unnecessary. The trial court's findings, relative to the Wife's economic disadvantage and the statutory factors and requirements, were not an abuse of discretion standard. The trial court found the Wife did not need rehabilitative alimony because she already had the necessary skills to achieve and maintain an appropriate standard of living. Transitional alimony was awarded to the Wife in order to assist and adjust to the economic consequences of the divorce.