If Anybody Ever Needed Alimony . . .

It’s difficult to fathom what the trial court in Madison County was thinking when it decided to deny alimony to a wife in a 22-year marriage whose total income was about 13% what her husband made. Here’s the case: Seymour v Seymour, Case No. 2150915 (Ala. Civ. App. June 30, 2017).

The wife appealed, so it’s simple enough for the appeals court to have remedied this problem. Unfortunately, inexplicably, and let’s just say incorrectly, it affirmed the trial court, leaving in place a patently unjust result.

Julia Yi Seymour grew up in Germany; English was a second language for her. Her husband was retired from military service, during which he had taken time to pursue a college degree. He earned $163,000. The wife’s financial status was decidedly bleaker: after a checkered work history punctuated by numerous false starts, she was earning $7,680 per year as a jewelry sales trainee, and she received $13,300 from the husband’s military retirement, for a total income of $21,000.

The appeals court seemed to be focused on the fact that the wife had been awarded rehabilitative alimony and that she should have done a better job pursuing training and advancement during the period of rehabilitation. “Based on the evidence in the record, the trial court could have determined that the former wife could earn more income but that she was voluntarily underemployed as a result of her lack of good-faith rehabilitation efforts. Under those circumstances, the trial court could have determined that it would be inequitable to award the former wife periodic¬†alimony.”

In his dissent, Judge Thompson pointed out that the wife left Germany for the U.S., apparently to marry the husband. Neither the majority nor Judge Thompson say so, but military spouses often are required to subordinate their career goals to those of their spouse because of the need to relocate on the direction or whim of the command structure.

In Judge Thompson’s words: “The wife presented evidence in which she asserted she would need $3,862 per month to live independently. The wife earns approximately $688 per month from her current employment, and, assuming that the husband pays her the military-retirement benefits as specified in the divorce judgment, she receives approximately $1,088 as her portion of those benefits. At the time of the hearing in this matter, the wife had been living for several years with one of the parties’ daughters, and she is unable to support herself independently.”

Lee’s note: The stated purpose of reserving periodic alimony, as the court did here, is to take a second look at the needs and earning capacities of the parties after the passage of time. Time has passed now, and things haven’t worked out well financially for the wife. After she left her home and traveled to a distant country and unfamiliar culture where she had sacrificed her career to that of her husband for two decades, one would think she would be entitled to the benefit of the doubt about rebuilding her finances after divorce. Unfortunately, neither the trial court nor the appeals court was willing to give her that.

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