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TN Alimony Case Springboard for Examining GA Spousal Support

A case in Tennessee that is attracting a considerable amount of legal interest and is currently before that state's Supreme Court highlights the concept of alimony following divorce, also commonly referred to in Georgia as spousal support or spousal maintenance. The case serves as a useful springboard for examination of Georgia's spousal support system.

Under Georgia law, a court has discretionary power to award or deny alimony, with spousal maintenance generally not considered to be as broad a remedy as it is in certain other states. In fact, alimony awards in Georgia can be quite subjective; unlike child support, for example, no state guidelines exist to guide a judge in his or her ruling.

Courts in both Georgia and Tennessee do make awards for what is termed "permanent alimony," but there are distinguishing factors in the case in Nashville that set it apart.

Notably, a Tennessee appellate court has ruled that an ex-husband must pay his former wife alimony for life, even though she worked throughout the marriage, has an ongoing career that pays her more than $70,000 annually, and was 43 years old when the marriage ended.

An award of permanent alimony in Georgia, while certainly not exceptional, typically applies in much more limited and dire circumstances than that. Generally, permanent alimony is awarded an ex-spouse who is much older than her (or his) early 40s , who sacrificed having a career in lieu of raising a family, who often cannot work because of a serious illness, and who was in a lengthy marriage -- often, one that lasted several decades.

That fact pattern obviously contrasts greatly to the case presently before the Tennessee Supreme Court on appeal. The Court is being asked to reconsider the award, which is for $1,250 a month. In a hearing last week, the ex-husband's attorney argued that the man's former spouse can reasonably be expected to live for at least 40 more years, making for an award of more than $600,000 in a case where the recipient already has a thriving and secure career.

Several justices inquired about other forms of alimony that might be available, including rehabilitative alimony that is more commonly awarded over a limited period to help an ex-spouse transition to new circumstances.

A ruling in the case is not expected for several weeks.

Related Resource: Daily Journal, "Tenn. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in lifetime alimony case" June 2, 2011

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