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Contentious Alimony Case Overturned by Tennessee Supreme Court

A recent decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned an earlier Court of Appeals decision to award lifetime and lump sum alimony to a Hendersonville woman.

Johanna and Craig Gonsewski divorced in 2009 after 21 years of marriage. Both were college educated and held stable and well-paying jobs. In the original divorce proceedings, the court divided the couple’s marital assets between the two with the wife getting slightly more than half of the total. The trial court denied alimony, also known as spousal support, as well as any payment of attorney’s fees to either party.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s previous decision and awarded the wife lifetime spousal support payments of $1,250 per month until death or remarriage, as well as a lump sum payment to cover attorney’s fees. This ruling reversed years of precedent in Tennessee that restricted lifetime alimony for spouses that were not in particularly dire financial straits.

Tennessee Supreme Court Ruling

The case then went before the Tennessee Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeals was in error in reversing the lower court’s decision, and upheld the original ruling denying spousal support and lump sum payments to either spouse. The decision affirmed that because the wife had job stability, considerable income and was awarded more than half of the couple’s marital assets, she was entitled to neither spousal support nor any lump sum to pay attorney’s fees.

The court acknowledged that the husband’s income was historically greater than his wife’s during their marriage; however, both parties were likely to incur a decrease in their standard of living after the divorce due to the division of assets. They rejected the wife’s argument that she was due the same standard of living after the divorce as during the marriage.

The Supreme Court also stressed in their opinion that the trial courts are granted considerable discretion in awarding spousal support and reiterated that the only time it is appropriate for the Court of Appeals to reverse a decision of the lower court is when the lower court is found to have abused its discretion. They found no such abuse of discretion in this case and reinstated the lower court’s original ruling.

The wide discrepancy between the trial court and the Court of Appeal’s order of spousal support demonstrates the need for experienced representation when going through divorce. If you are facing divorce, contact an experienced divorce lawyer to give you the best chance of a fair property division and appropriate alimony payments.