In the case titled Parrish v. Parrish, No. W2013-00316-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 21, 2013), Knoxville divorce attorneys learn when 1) disadvantaged spouses are entitled to in futuro alimony and 2) awards are not solely determined by proper documentation or benefits obtained from the distribution of marital assets.
The parties of the case were married in December 1982. Husband filed for divorce in June 2010. Wife did not answer the complaint and Husband moved for a default judgment and was granted a divorce by the Chancery Court in September 2010. Wife filed a motion to set aside the divorce in October 2010 and filed a counterclaim for in futuro alimony. The court granted Wife's motion and set the original judgment aside. At that time the parties agreed on an equal division of most marital property and debt. However, a settlement could not be reached on the distribution of Husband's retirement account and alimony. The parties' pursuit of the case stalled until the court ruled that the case would be dismissed if an agreement was not reached in a timely manner. Wife filed a motion for non-dismissal and requested that alimony be granted. The Chancery Court granted the divorce and awarded Wife in futuro alimony in the amount of $850.00 per month based on the length of the marriage, physical and mental health of Wife, disparity of earning potential and education levels, and no means of feasible rehabilitation by Wife to sustain a standard of living above poverty. Husband appealed the trial court's decision on the grounds that the ruling was based on the lack of documentation substantiating Wife's inability for rehabilitation and did not consider the sizable monetary relief that was awarded to her by the distribution of marital assets.
Analysis and Conclusion
Husband averred the trial court was in error when it awarded Wife alimony in futuro. He argued that the court ruled without the proper documentation that supported the need for the specified amount and length of alimony. He also stated the lower court granted the in futuro alimony without regard to the sizable monetary relief that Wife obtained through the distribution of martial assets. The trial court based its decision on the following facts: that the parties had been married for 29 years; that the husband was gainfully employed as a skilled laborer; Wife had been a stay at home parent for the majority of the marriage; Wife, when employed outside the home, had earned a meager income; Wife suffered from physical and emotional ailments that prevented her from being employed; and by her own, undisputed testimony that she relied on the assistance of family members for housing, government food assistance and by "begging" for the basic needs of survival. Husband did not dispute any of Wife's circumstances. While important, it was not necessary for the evidence to be officially documented in order for in futuro alimony to be awarded. The undisputed testimony Wife outlined the need for the requested alimony. Husband had the ability to provide and the divorce action should not decrease Wife's standard of living. The trail court's decision was appropriate based on the individual needs and circumstances of the disadvantaged spouse under the required guidelines. The Court of Appeals held the opinion that the lower court did not err in its discretion by awarding the type or amount of alimony to Wife. Therefore, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision.