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Spousal Support/Alimony in a Tennessee Divorce

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Tennessee Spousal Support/ Alimony Overview

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is a support payment one spouse makes to the other spouse after separation or divorce. The purpose of alimony is to limit any unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing a continuing income to a non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse. Part of the justification is that one spouse may have chosen to forego a career to support the family, and needs time to develop job skills to support his or herself. Another purpose may be to help a spouse continue the standard of living they had during marriage. In the past, most alimony awards required the breadwinning former husband to make payments to the former wife.  However, as society has changed, due to most marriages including two wage earners and more husbands being stay-at-home dads, so have alimony awards.  Women are now viewed as less dependent and more and more, the tradition of men paying and women receiving spousal support is being eroded, and orders of alimony payments from ex-wife to ex-husband are on the rise.  


Types of Alimony

In Tennessee, there are four types of alimony. They are as follows:

  •  Rehabilitative alimony,

  • Alimony in Futuro (also called Indefinite Alimony),

  • Transitional Alimony, and

  • Alimony in Solido (also called Lump Sum Alimony)


The purpose of rehabilitative alimony is to help a spouse who’s been out of the workforce or who doesn’t have the ability to earn much income develop the capacity to earn enough money to enjoy a standard of living similar to the one the spouses shared during marriage--or at least similar to the one the other spouse will enjoy after the divorce. The court may order rehabilitative alimony so that a spouse can go to school or get training in order to earn more money.  Rehabilitative alimony is typically ordered only for the amount of time that is necessary for the recipient spouse to receive training and become self-supporting.  Once a spouse is retrained in the skills needed to generate the necessary income, that spouse is deemed “rehabilitated.”


Alimony in futuro is an order for support that will be paid over a long period of time to a spouse who is unable to earn enough income to enjoy an appropriate standard of living. The court may make this order in addition to an order for rehabilitative alimony when a spouse can only be partially rehabilitated or when rehabilitation is not possible because, for example, the financially disadvantaged spouse is unable to attend training or school. This type of alimony is more common where the marriage was long and the spouse has little chance of returning to the workforce at full capacity.


Transitional alimony is support paid for a definite period of time when rehabilitation is not necessary but one spouse needs some time to adjust to new financial circumstances after separation or divorce.

Alimony in solido is a form of long term support. The court will calculate the total amount of support at the time of the order.  Payments may be made in installments in a set amount over a certain period of time. The purpose of alimony in solido is to provide support, sometimes including attorney’s fees.


Determining the Alimony Award

In Tennessee, a statute applies to alimony.  Please see the Alimony Statute in the Appendix for the exact wording of the statute. It is important to note that an alimony award is not solely based on the financial needs of one spouse. Alimony is based upon the relative needs and resources of both parties.   In order for alimony to be awarded, one spouse must be in need of alimony and the other spouse must have the ability to pay alimony. The spouses may agree to the type, length, and amount of alimony, or the court may order it.  When determining whether or not to order alimony in addition to the type of alimony, amount of alimony, manner of payments, and length of payments, the court will consider the following:


  • Each spouse’s earning ability, obligations, needs, and financial resources (including from pension or retirement accounts);

  • Each spouse’s training and education, and whether they have the need and ability to obtain further education and training to improve their earning ability;

  • The length of the marriage;

  • The age and mental condition of each spouse;

  • the physical condition of each spouse, including any physical incapacity due to a chronic disease;

  • Whether a spouse has custody of a minor child of the marriage and as a result finds it difficult to work outside the home;

  • Each spouse’s separate property;

  • How the court divided the marital property in the divorce or separation;

  • The standard of living the spouses shared during the marriage;

  • How each party contributed to the marriage financially or as a homemaker, and whether either spouse helped the other achieve training, education, or increased income;

  • The fault of each spouse, if the court finds it appropriate to consider fault; and

  • Tax consequences of support payments to each spouse.


Determining the Length of Alimony

 A rehabilitative alimony order will last as long as the judge thinks it should reasonably take the supported spouse to reach the income goals. The court may increase or decrease the amount of the order, terminate the order early, or extend the end date if circumstances change. To increase the amount of the order or to extend the order beyond its original end date, the spouse receiving support will need to show evidence of having made all reasonable efforts to become rehabilitated. Rehabilitative alimony will end automatically if the supported spouse dies, and also if the paying spouse dies, unless the order states otherwise.


The court will order alimony in futuro on a long-term basis. The order will end if the supported spouse dies or remarries, and if the paying spouse dies, unless the order specifically states otherwise. In addition, the court may end or reduce alimony in futuro if the supported spouse begins to live with someone else, unless there’s evidence that the other person is not supporting or receiving support from the supported spouse.


The court will order transitional alimony to last for as long as it’s anticipated the supported spouse will need to adjust to the new financial circumstances resulting from the divorce or separation. The order will end before its termination date if the supported spouse dies, and will also end if the paying spouse dies, unless the order specifically states otherwise. In addition, the court may end or reduce alimony in futuro if the supported spouse begins to live with someone else, unless there’s evidence that the other person is not supporting or receiving support from the supported spouse.


Unlike the other types of alimony, alimony in solido does not end when a party dies, remarries, or lives with another person. The obligation to pay the lump sum amount continues until all payments are made.


Special Considerations

Below are some special consideration to keep in mind when it comes to alimony:

  • Taxes and Alimony/ Spousal Support - In general, the spouse paying support can deduct the alimony payments from their taxable income.  For the spouse receiving support, the payments count as income and are taxable. 

  • Living with someone else – If the ex-spouse receiving spousal support lives with someone after the divorce, it may cause alimony in futuro or rehabilitative alimony to be lowered or stopped, regardless of whether or not the roommate and ex-spouse have sex.

  • Death of spouse - Death of one of the persons paying or receiving alimony or marriage of the person receiving alimony will terminate alimony in futuro and rehabilitative alimony unless the divorce settlement agreement provides otherwise. I suggest securing all support payments with life insurance on the payor.  Also, the court can require life insurance as a bond or put a lien on property to ensure the payment of alimony or child support.

The Four Core Areas of Divorce

Throughout the divorce process, you will have to make many decisions that may have an immense effect on you, your finances, and your children.  There are four core areas that you will have to make decisions regarding.  They are child custody and visitation, child support, the division of marital property, and spousal support.  Click the links below to learn more about each of the core areas of a divorce.

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  • How child custody is determined in Tennessee,

  • How child visitation is determined in Tennessee,

  • How child support is determined in Tennessee,

  • How alimony is determined in Tennessee,

  • How property is divided in a Tennessee divorce,

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  • How to protect your children throughout the divorce process.

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