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Family Law

Tennessee Supreme Court Nixes Lifetime Alimony for Ex-Spouse Earning $72K a Year

Posted Sep 20, 2011 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A woman who earned $72,000 in an information technology position wasn’t entitled to lifetime alimony from her higher-earning ex-husband, the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled.

The woman, Johanna Gonsewski, received no alimony judgment at the trial level, but an appeals court had awarded her $1,250 a month until her death or remarriage. Her ex-husband, Craig Gonsewski, earned more than $137,000 as an accountant, which included a $33,000 bonus, in the year before their divorce. The appeals court had reasoned the alimony was needed “to mitigate the harsh economic realities of divorce” due to the disparity in incomes. The couple had been married about 21 years.

The Tennessee Supreme Court disagreed. It’s impossible for two people living apart to enjoy the same standard of living as when they were married, the court said in its opinion (PDF). The decision said there was no need to overturn the trial court’s judgment, since Johanna Gonsewski had a college degree, good health, and a strong earnings record. She received marital assets valued at about $200,000, while her husband received assets worth about $190,000.

The decision was “highly anticipated,” according to the Tennessean. Nashville family lawyer Larry Hayes Jr. told the Tennessean the decision “pulled the reins back in” on the court of appeals, which had abandoned the traditional analysis of “ability and need” in making alimony decisions. “He had the ability, but she didn’t have the need,” Hayes said.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal also covered the ruling. Hat tip to How Appealing.

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