Modifying an alimony obligation

People in Nashville often have many misconceptions about alimony, with many thinking that it is simply a way to punish a spouse financially by forcing them to pay their ex’s support, even after their divorce has become final. In a divorce case, if alimony is awarded, the obligation is typically placed on the spouse who is perceived to be more financially stable (regardless of whether that is the husband or the wife).

Regardless of whether an ex-husband or an ex-wife is obligated to pay alimony, the financial stability that they may have enjoyed at the time their obligation was set may change. This change occurs from various causes such as job loss, illness or serious injury or medical condition that changes their ability to work — or even a promotion that increases their income. Conversely, the spouse receiving support may remarry, which could affect the support payments that were previously set for them to receive.

Changes in an ex-spouse’s financial situation may necessitate a review of their alimony obligation to determine whether it should be decreased (or increased, should their circumstances change for the better). According to Section 36-5-121 of Tennessee’s Domestic Relations Code, the court having jurisdiction over an alimony case may order that an obligation be modified if it is shown that the one paying has experienced “a substantial and material change of circumstances.”

The law only allows for certain types of alimony to be modified, however. Rehabilitative alimony (support paid until the one receiving it is able to support themselves) and alimony in futuro (alimony paid until the one receiving it dies or remarries) are subject to modification. Alimony in solido (lump sum alimony) is not. Transitional alimony is generally not modifiable.