Can An Alimony Award Be Modified Or Terminated?

Date: August 6, 2014
Author: Thomas White

Can An Alimony Award Be Modified Or Terminated?An issue that clients on both sides of divorce cases ask about frequently is alimony. What is alimony? Who gets alimony? How long do they get it? Clients are increasingly asking if an alimony award, either agreed to by the parties or awarded by a Court at trial, can ever be changed. In many cases, an alimony award can be modified or terminated by the Court, but it depends on what type of alimony has been ordered, what the Marital Dissolution Agreement (MDA) states, or whether the ex-spouse received alimony is residing with a third party.

In Tennessee, there are generally four distinct types of alimony: alimony in future, alimony in solido, rehabilitative alimony, and transitional alimony. Of those four types of alimony, only alimony in futuro and rehabilitative alimony can be modified.

Generally, alimony in futuro consists of periodic payments that are given to a former spouse when that spouse has no real chance of maintaining his/her standard of living accustomed to during the marriage. Rehabilitative alimony is provided to the former spouse to help them complete their education or training when he/she is economically disadvantaged compared to the other spouse. If the person paying the alimony can show that the ex-spouse receiving alimony no longer needs it due to an increase in income from the time of divorce or they have completed their education, then the Court may modify or terminate the alimony award completely.

Sometimes when clients find themselves faced with the process of a divorce, the attorney drafting the documents does not specifically state which type of alimony is being awarded. What this situation arises, the MDA is often controlling. In most of these instances, the MDA will states whether an award of alimony is terminable or not. If the MDA is silent as to that issue, it nevertheless may be amendable by the Court.

Tennessee law also provides that if an ex-spouse is receiving alimony but is living with a third party, there is a rebuttable presumption that they no longer need spousal support from their former spouse. Specifically, T.C.A. § 36-5-121(f)(A)-(B) states that when a third party resides with an ex-spouse there is a presumption that the third party is either supporting the ex-spouse or the ex-spouse is supporting the third party. In either case, the ex-spouse must demonstrate to the Court why it is necessary for the support to continue unchanged.

Questions such as those surrounding alimony are common for clients that find themselves faced with the unfortunate dissolution of a marriage. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to speak with a knowledgeable family law attorney regarding this issue or any other issue, please email or call the attorneys at Fidelis Law. We welcome the opportunity to counsel you on any family law issue.