After a divorce, modifications to court-ordered support obligations for a spouse may be possible in certain situations, such as retirement. In a Tennessee spousal support opinion issued on January 3, 2018, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reviewed whether a post-divorce modification of alimony in futuro was appropriate after the husband retired.
The spouses in the case had divorced in 2011 after 42 years of marriage. Their divorce decree provided that the husband would pay monthly alimony in futuro to the wife. In 2012, the husband suffered a heart attack and sold his dental practice shortly thereafter. He filed a petition to terminate his alimony obligation, since he was no longer able to pay. The trial court found that despite a substantial and material change in circumstances as a result of his retirement, the husband had the ability to pay, and the wife had the need for support. The husband appealed the decision.
In Tennessee, an award of alimony in futuro may be increased, decreased, terminated, extended, or otherwise modified upon a showing of a substantial and material change in circumstances. On appeal, the court agreed that the husband’s retirement was objectively reasonable and constituted a material and substantial change of circumstances. The court next considered whether a modification was justified in light of all of the statutory factors. In making its determination, the two most important considerations are the financial ability of the obligor to provide the support and the financial need of the party receiving the support.