KATHRYN NICOLE BROWN v. TYLER MATTHEW BROWN, (Tenn.Ct.App. 10/25/2018)
The plaintiff filed a complaint for divorce against the defendant on August 24, 2016, in the Hamilton County Chancery Court. In her complaint, Wife averred that the parties had been married since 2009 and had two minor children.
Husband testified that he was employed as a software engineer with a base salary of $155,000.00 per year. He also received employee stock options from his employer, although such benefit had not yet vested. According to Husband, he was paying $1,420.00 per month in rent for a residence near the marital home. Husband also explained that during the pendency of the divorce, he had paid $4,200.00 per month to Wife in support of the children and her pursuant to the parties’ mediated temporary agreement.
The trial court considered the statutory factors related to an award of alimony, codified at Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-121. Following its analysis of the pertinent statutory factors, the court awarded to Wife rehabilitative alimony in the amount of $4,000.00 per month for a period of four years. The court also awarded to Wife attorney’s fees in the amount of $7,000.00 as alimony in solido.
COURT OF APPEALS:
Husband asserts that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding to Wife rehabilitative alimony in the amount of $4,000.00 per month for a period of four years. Husband presents three bases for his contention that the amount of alimony awarded to Wife was erroneous: (1) Wife received a greater share of the marital estate, (2) Wife presented inadequate proof of her need and Husband’s ability to pay the amount awarded, and (3) the trial court erroneously considered Husband’s fault. We will address each of these arguments in turn.
Husband contends that the trial court should not have awarded alimony in the amount of $4,000.00 per month to Wife because Wife received a greater share of the marital estate. In its marital property distribution, the trial court awarded to Husband assets valued at $36,520.00 while awarding to Wife assets valued at $50,600.00. Although Wife did receive a slightly greater share of the marital estate (58% of the total assets), the trial court expressly considered this allocation in its analysis of the statutory factors related to spousal support. The trial court ultimately determined, however, that the remaining alimony factors, most notably Husband’s significantly greater earning capacity, weighed in favor of an award of rehabilitative alimony to Wife. We agree.
The evidence presented at trial supports the trial court’s findings regarding Wife’s need and Husband’s ability to pay. Husband’s income and expense statement demonstrated that Husband had a monthly net income of $9,800.00 while Wife had no income. At trial, Husband testified that his monthly rent was $1,420.00 and his utility expenses were approximately $70.00 per month. Husband listed other expenses for himself and the children on his statement, including $1,200.00 per month for food; $900.00 per month for clothing; and $900.00 per month for recreation. As the trial court observed, Husband’s listed expenses appeared to be greatly inflated, especially when compared with those listed by Wife, even when considering that Wife’s listed expenses, other than housing and utilities, were solely for herself and not the children.
Although Wife was attending classes in design and front-end programming at the time of trial, she did not expect to graduate for approximately ten months. Wife testified that she was unsure of what her expected salary would be following graduation because of her lack of work experience. Furthermore, as the trial court noted, Wife was designated the primary residential parent of the parties’ children, who were only two and three years of age at the time of trial and thus would not be of school age for at least two to three more years. This fact could also impact Wife’s employability during that time frame or cause her to incur greater expenses for child care.
Based on the evidence presented, we conclude that the trial court did not err in its determination that Wife demonstrated a need for and Husband had the ability to pay an award of rehabilitative alimony in the amount of $4,000.00 per month for four years. As the trial court stated, Husband’s net monthly income minus his child support, rent, and utility expenses would leave Husband with approximately $6,398.00 per month to cover other living expenses. Wife claimed a need for $4,277.00 per month without consideration of food, clothing, and other miscellaneous expenses for the children. As such, we determine that the trial court’s award of $4,000.00 per month in rehabilitative alimony was supported by a preponderance of the evidence.