Rehabilitative Alimony vis a vis Equitable Distribution

May 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

In a recent case, the COA reversed a chancellor’s calculation of equitable distribution because she counted the mortgage balance both as a liability and as a reduction of the value of the mortgage property. The chancellor had also awarded rehabilitative alimony.

The appellant, Tony Hearn, argued that the chancellor was in error in awarding rehabilitative alimony to his ex, Varena, and that the COA’s reversal of equitable distribution mandated reversal of the rehabilitative alimony award. That’s because as equitable distribution expands, periodic alimony contracts, and vice versa. So, when equitable distribution is thrown out for recalculation, it’s back to the drawing board for periodic alimony recalculation.

Does that rule apply to rehabilitative alimony, though?

In the COA case Hearn v. Hearn, handed down May 10, 2016, the court answered, “no,” and affirmed the chancellor’s award. Judge Lee’s opinion explained:

¶16. In his other issue on appeal, Tony contends the chancellor erred in awarding Varena rehabilitative alimony. “Rehabilitative alimony provides for a party who is trying to become self-supporting and prevents that party from becoming destitute while searching for a means of income. Moreover, ‘the primary purpose of rehabilitative alimony is to give the former spouse the opportunity to enter the work force.’” McCarrell v. McCarrell, 19 So. 3d 168, 170 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2009) (quoting Alexis v. Tarver, 879 So. 2d 1078, 1080 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2004)) (internal citation omitted).

¶17. Ordinarily, the reversal of a chancellor’s division of marital property requires reversal of an alimony award. Mace v. Mace, 818 So. 2d 1130, 1134 (¶16) (Miss. 2002). However, the decision to award rehabilitative alimony “is not considered during equitable distribution.” Lauro v. Lauro, 847 So. 2d 843, 849 (¶15) (Miss. 2003); see also Hensarling v. Hensarling, 824 So. 2d 583, 595 (¶39) (Miss. 2002) (court affirmed award of rehabilitative alimony even though it reversed for chancellor to reevaluate value of marital estate); Rhodes v. Rhodes, 52 So. 3d 430, 447 (¶72) (Miss. Ct. App. 2011) (“[A]n award of rehabilitative alimony is exempted from the general proposition that reversal of one financial award requires reversal of all.”); Lauro v. Lauro, 924 So. 2d 584, 588 (¶14) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006) (“Periodic alimony is to be reconsidered when the marital estate is redistributed under principles of equitable distribution. However, rehabilitative alimony is not considered during equitable distribution.”). “Rehabilitative periodic alimony is an equitable mechanism which allows a party needing assistance to become self-supporting without becoming destitute in the interim.” Hubbard v. Hubbard, 656 So. 2d 124, 130 (Miss. 1995).

¶18. In this instance, the chancellor evaluated the award of alimony under the factors enunciated in Armstrong v. Armstrong, 618 So. 2d 1278, 1280 (Miss. 1993). The chancellor divided the marital estate in order to adequately provide for Varena, eliminating the need for periodic alimony. In her amended judgment, the chancellor noted that Varena was employed and working towards self-sufficiency but her monthly expenses still exceeded her monthly income. The chancellor stated that “[c]learly, the award of rehabilitative alimony was intended to . . . allow [Varena] to start anew without becoming destitute.” The chancellor reduced the award of rehabilitative alimony from $650 per month for three years to $600 per month for six months, finding that six months was “a reasonable amount of time to allow [Varena] to address the financial issues involved in her becoming self-sufficient in her living conditions.” We can find no abuse of discretion by the chancellor in awarding Varena rehabilitative alimony. This issue is without merit.

The mention of an amended judgment must refer either to a post-R59(a) ruling by the judge, or to a change in her ruling within ten days per R59(d)..

 

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