Taking "Loans" While Self-Employed Will Be Viewed as Income (and Will Not Lower Your Alimony in Tennessee)

May 27, 2013
By The McKellar Law Firm, PLLC on May 27, 2013 11:43 AM |

In the case titled Harkleroad v. Harkleroad, No. E2012-01804-COA-R3-CV, 2013 Tenn. App., WL 1933024 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 10, 2013) Knoxville divorce attorneys learn that not all income changes qualifies as a "material change in circumstance" in order to modify alimony.

Facts: Husband and Wife filed for divorce after forty (40) years of marriage. At the time of the divorce, the children of the marriage were over the age of eighteen (18) years. Wife alleged adultery while Husband alleged Wife was "verbally and mentally cruel to him." Wife requested spousal support. The court found her earning potential to be $14,000-$16,000 per year; Husband was assessed an earning potential of $60,000 per year. The court divided the martial estate and ordered Husband to pay wife alimony in futuro in the amount of $1,300 per month and to provide Wife's medical insurance. The court stated Wife needed the spousal support to make the mortgage payment on the marital home which she kept as part of the divorce.

In 2012 Husband petitioned to modify the alimony and medical insurance obligation arguing a "material change in circumstances." Husband alleged he had not received a paycheck from his insurance company (of which he was the sole stockholder) since 2009 and was solely living off his Social Security income. He averred that Wife never got a job as the lower court ordered, she refinanced the home prolonging the payments, and she now received Social Security income.

Income statements were submitted by both parties. The Husband's showed a loss of $1,574 per month; Wife's showed a net income of $149.19 per month. Husband testified that he received $1,660 per month in Social Security benefits and retirement income. He claimed he had not received income from his insurance business since 2009, however; he conceded that the business covered its expenses and provided him with personal loans over the years with the most recent loan being three (3) years after his divorce from Wife in the amount of $106,000. He averred that this loan was used to pay Wife's medical insurance premiums and alimony payments. Husband agreed that his business' appraisal value was $268,000, but he argued that he owed the company $260,000. Husband also admitted to obtaining personal loans from friends and family in the amount of $34,000.

Husband stated that the purpose of the alimony in futuro was to assist Wife in paying the mortgage on the marital home which was awarded to her in the divorce and that the mortgage should have been paid off in 2010, but Wife refinanced the home which extended the payment for another 30 year mortgage term. Wife rebutted that she was not working at the time she refinanced the home, and the alimony payments were not enough to cover the mortgage and her living expenses. She averred that the refinance of the home lowered her mortgage payment to $490 which allowed her to remain in the home.

Wife stated that she had been employed as a substitute teacher but had injured her back rendering her unable to work. In response to her costly medical insurance premiums, Wife explained that she had to have several operations on her back. Wife testified to the court that she was eligible and intended to apply for Medicare which would reduce the cost of her medical insurance premium to $98 per month.

In regards to Husband's income, the lower court found that the loans he received from his business were income as was his Social Security benefits. Therefore, it reasoned, Husband had the ability to pay the alimony in futuro in the amount of $1,300 per month and further ordered him to pay an additional $400 per month to pay his arrearage of same. It was also ordered that Husband pay Wife's Medicare premium in the amount of $98. Husband filed an appeal.

Analysis: On appeal Husband asserted that his entire estate was dissipated by the alimony in futuro and medical insurance premiums awarded to Wife in the divorce. He further asserted he had not received any income from his business since 2009. Wife argued that Husband did receive income from his business through loans instead of a traditional salary; therefore, the lower court's opinion should be affirmed.

The appellate court found that Husband reported an income of $20,000 from his company at the time of the divorce. That income would amount to approximately $1,666 per month. The court found that while Husband no longer received said income his Social Security benefits were almost exactly the same amount, therefore; his income had not drastically changed. It further averred Husband chose to take loans against his company instead of a salary, so, while he did not have a salary, he did have income from the business. In regards to Wife, the appellate court found her ability to work had drastically declined since the divorce was finalized and her Social Security benefits were "not commensurate with her imputed income at the time of the divorce."

Conclusion: The appellate court found the lower court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Husband did not prove a "material change in circumstance" in order to dictate a modification of the alimony in futuro obligation. The lower court's opinion was affirmed.