In a unanimous decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court declared lifetime alimony to be inapplicable when the receiving spouse is in good health, receives a good salary, and has received substantial assets in the division of martial property. The highly anticipated decision was the product of a 2009 divorce proceeding between Johanna and Craig Gonsewski. Craig Gonsewski took home an annual salary of $137,000 with an additional $38,000 bonus as a comptroller of a restaurant equipment manufacturer. His wife Johanna, who is employed in the information technology sector of the state, received an annual salary of $72,000. In the Court of Appeals, Craig Gonsewski was ordered to pay $1,250 to his ex-wife each month.
In reversing the decision by the Court of Appeals, Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark noted the impossibility for a separated couple to enjoy the same standard of living they enjoyed while married with mutual assets and income. Moreover, Clark determined that Tennessee law clearly favors temporary over lifetime alimony and intends for such awards to be used in an effort to ease the transition from married to single life. He went on to state that lifetime awards should be reserved for spouses who due to mitigating factors such as age or extensive unemployment would have difficulty becoming self-sufficient. Likewise, while Johanna Gonsewski was in her 40’s at the time of the divorce and had worked throughout her marriage to establish a successful career, most lifetime awards go to women who are over 50 and have sacrificed their careers for their family.
Additionally, it was held that Johanna Gonsewski was not entitled to the lump-sum alimony award of her attorney fees and expenses for both the trial and appeal, as she was considered to be partially responsible for them and was financially capable of paying them herself. The Supreme Court ultimately reinstated the judgment of the trial court and determined the lower court did not abuse its discretion in awarding alimony to neither party. The decision is expected to shape the allocation of money in divorce proceedings across the state.
Posted By: Eston Whiteside