By Jedidiah McKeehan

When I am discussing someone’s divorce case with them, one of the questions that often comes up is, “Am I going to have to pay them alimony?”

Alimony, or spousal support, are payments from one spouse to another after they are divorced to allow the economically disadvantaged spouse to maintain the standard of living to which they had become accustomed. Another reason alimony is awarded is so the disadvantaged spouse has some monies on hand while they secure employment or a new place to live.

The awarding of alimony does not occur as often as you think. Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-5-121 is a very lengthy statute that lays out the factors used to determine whether alimony should be awarded, and the different types of alimony that can be awarded. However, most attorneys will tell you that the two primary factors used to determine whether alimony will be awarded are: need and ability.

Does the disadvantaged spouse have a real need to be awarded monthly financial support paid by their ex?

Does the spouse in a better financial position have the ability to actually afford to pay the other spouse alimony?

So, when someone asks me if they are going to have to pay alimony here are the questions I ask them before they answer:

First, I ask them how long they have been married. There are exceptions, but generally alimony is not awarded in short-term marriages. Typically, you do not see alimony awarded for very long, if at all, if the couple has been married less than 10 years.

Second, I ask them who makes more money? If they make less money than their spouse, or they make about the same, then alimony will typically not be awarded.

It’s important to know that alimony is totally separate from child support. Someone can be awarded both alimony and child support in certain situations.

If someone is awarded alimony, how long will they get it for? There are no hard and fast rules to this, but a decent rule of thumb is that if alimony is going to be awarded, it will generally be for one-third of the length of the marriage, or less.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.