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Ex-Husband Sells Plane, Loses Alimony Reduction

Tennessee alimony modification case summary after 23 years married originally.

Husband Sells Plane, Loses Alimony Reduction

Regina D. Gensci v. Cyrus W. Wiser

The husband and wife in this Rutherford County, Tennessee, case were divorced in 2005 after a 23 year marriage.  After the marriage, they were no strangers to the courts, and there case went up to the Tennessee Court of Appeals two times, in 2010, and again in 2015.

While the second appeal was still pending, the husband filed a petition to reduce his alimony payment.  Trial was delayed, and the alimony obligation had actually expired by the time of trial.  Therefore, the issue at trial was whether the husband was entitled to a credit for the $550,000 alimony he had paid in the years prior to the end of alimony.  That trial, heard by Judge Larry B. Stanley, focused on the husband’s ability to pay.  He alleged that he had to borrow the money to pay the alimony for those four years, and that he had no income during that time period.

The husband’s tax returns were entered into evidence, and they showed that he had significant business losses for those years.  He argued that he was basically insolvent, and that his new wife paid all living expenses.  He had also been diagnosed with cancer, and he testified that the treatments left him exhausted and unable to concentrate.  He was even forced to sell his private plane to pay off creditors.

On cross-examination, the husband maintained that his companies remained afloat thanks to a $1.7 million loan from his new wife, although he had no documentation of the transaction.  He was also somewhat vague as to how she got the $1.7 million in the first place, since she worked as claims manager for an insurance company.

After hearing all of the evidence, the trial court declined to make any changes to the alimony obligation.  In particular, the trial court held that the husband had not proven a change in his ability to pay.  The husband then brought a third appeal to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

The appeals court first noted that it would not disturb a lower court’s ruling unless the lower court had abused its discretion.

The appeals court noted that the trial court had rejected the tax returns as reliable evidence.  The appeals court held that there was no reason to disturb that finding.  Here, the lower court was in a better position to evaluate the evidence, especially in a case where a party is in a position to manipulate income, as the owner of a business.

Even though the appeals court conceded that there might have been a change of income, it held that the husband had not met is burden of showing that this was a substantial change.

The appeals court also concluded that the lower court had properly refused to modify the property distribution.  For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed.  It remanded the case for the lower court to compute the wife’s attorney’s fees for the appeal.

No. M2019-00442-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 26,  2021).

See original opinion for exact language.  Legal citations omitted.

To learn more, see Alimony Modification in Tennessee Law | How to Modify Alimony.