Divorce in Tennessee: Procedures, Laws, and Helpful Information for Filing for Divorce in Tennessee

June 7, 2017
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Divorce in Tennessee

If you are considering filing for divorce in the state of Tennessee, you most likely have a lot of questions about the process. Some of the most common questions that we are asked about include the specific steps of the divorce process, the timeframe for a divorce in Tennessee, the division of property, alimony, and child custody. In this document, we will answer the most frequently asked questions that people have when it comes to filing for divorce in Tennessee and detail the process from start to finish.


How do I file for divorce in Tennessee?

The legal documents needed to file for divorce in Tennessee

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The first step for the divorce process in Tennessee is filing the correct paperwork with the courts. This involves the party that is filing for divorce, also known as the Plaintiff, submitting a Complaint or Petition for Divorce with the proper Court.

When filing this initial paperwork, the state also requires the Plaintiff to submit a Certificate of Divorce. Once these divorce papers are filed, the Clerk of Court will serve the spouse, or Defendant, with the official Complaint as well as a Summons. As soon as these documents have been served on the other party, the divorce is officially underway.

How long does a divorce take in Tennessee?

The timeframe for getting a divorce in Tennessee varies, depending on a wide range of factors including whether or not the couple has children that are minors, if the divorce is contested or uncontested, and if the divorcing couple is able to settle outside of the courtroom or chooses to go to trial.

For divorcing couples that are not parents of minor children, the divorce process can be completed in as little as 60 days following the official filing of the Complaint for Divorce with the proper authorities. However, for couples that are parents to minors, the Courts require a mandatory “cooling off period” of 90 days before granting the divorce.

Legal Separation Versus Divorce In Tennessee

In Tennessee, couples that want to separate without getting divorced are permitted to legally separate. Under a legal separation in Tennessee, the parties involved remain legally married but proceed to divide their property, create a child custody plan, and establish any necessary alimony payments.

This legally binding agreement mirrors divorce in many ways but gives the spouses the financial and legal advantages of remaining legally married. Some of these benefits include insurance coverage and the maintenance of a legal relationship in the case of an unforeseen death or medical emergency.

What are Tennessee’s divorce laws?

Contested versus uncontested divorce

There are two types of divorces in Tennessee: contested and uncontested. Depending on which type of divorce you are going through, your legal process will vary greatly.

Photo courtesy of Blue Diamond Gallery

Photo courtesy of Blue Diamond Gallery

In an uncontested divorce, both parties settle on their terms of divorce outside of the courtroom. An uncontested divorce is typically considered to be due to no-fault grounds of divorce such as irreconcilable differences or not living together for a minimum of two years (if you do not have any children). Since uncontested divorces are settled outside of the courtroom they are typically much less costly and less time-consuming.

On the other hand, a contested divorce arises when both parties cannot reach an agreement on their terms of divorce—meaning the divorce proceedings must play out in Court. Because of this, contested divorces are typically much more costly, and span a much greater length of time. When proceeding with a contested divorce, the state of Tennessee requires the Plaintiff demonstrate fault grounds for divorce.

Grounds for divorce in Tennessee

There are many fault grounds for divorce in Tennessee. This list includes:

-The act of adultery by either party

-Impotence or an inability to procreate

-Abandonment, neglect, or refusal

-The abuse of narcotic drugs or habitual drunkenness that began after the marriage was entered into

-Inhumane or cruel treatment by either spouse leading to unsafe or improper living conditions

-Pregnancy of the wife by an outside party that the husband was unaware of when entering into the marriage contract


-Conviction of a felony crime leading to imprisonment

-Inappropriate marital conduct

-Willfully or maliciously deserting one’s spouse for a year or longer with no reasonable cause

-Conviction of a crime considered infamous

-Refusal to relocate and reside in the state of Tennessee with a spouse, and/or living away from one’s spouse for two years

-Any attempt to end the life of the other spouse

-Making the life of the other spouse intolerable

Filing for Divorce in Tennessee with Children

State requirements for divorcing parents

Photo courtesy of Ratiu Bia via Unsplash

Photo courtesy of Ratiu Bia via Unsplash

Filing for divorce is always a difficult process—especially if the parties involved are parents to children that are minors. Because of this, the state of Tennessee enacted the Tennessee Parenting Plan law in 2001, which requires couples seeking divorce to create a permanent parenting plan, outlining the care of the children in question. This plan includes allocation of child support, division of parenting responsibilities, and creating a residential schedule detailing when the children will be under the care of each parent and which parent’s home will be the child’s primary residence.

Parents that are going through a divorce in the state of Tennessee are also required to participate in a four-hour course on parenting, which highlights consideration parents need to keep in mind concerning their children when going through the divorce process.

Tennessee divorce law & child custody

During the divorce process one of the more difficult decisions is deciding which parent will take over the responsibility as the primary residential parent. This can be decided on by the court in several aways.

One of the most common ways that the judge decides which parent will have primary custody is by appointing a guardian ad litem, who is typically an attorney, social worker, or professional from the mental health field. Whoever is appointed to be the guardian ad litem conducts research, interviewing those closest to the children including the parents themselves, teachers, caregivers, and neighbors. They then prepare a report for the court, recommending one of the parents as the primary guardian

Tennessee divorce laws surrounding alimony and the division of property

Alimony or Maintenance

In the state of Tennessee, alimony, or spousal support, is referred to as maintenance. When it comes to maintenance, the Court may choose from several different types, depending on the specifics of your marriage. These types of maintenance include rehabilitative, transitional, long-term, and lump sum. There are many factors influencing the type of maintenance that the supporting spouse will have to pay, some of which include:

-The length of the marriage

-Any education or training the requesting spouse may need to be financially independent

-The health and mental state of the receiving spouse

-Tax ramifications

-The division of marital property

-The age of the parties involved

-Whether or not the spouse requesting alimony can seek employment if they are the primary caregiver to a minor

Division of Property

When filing for divorce in Tennessee, any marital property must be divided between the spouses; however, separate property,such as individual inheritances and property purchased before the marriage was initiated, is not required to be divided as a part of divorce proceedings.

filing for divorce in TN

Photo courtesy of Joe Perales via Unsplash

The state of Tennessee is classified as an equitable distribution state, which requires all property that is classified as marital property to be equitably distributed between the spouses. Surprisingly an equitable division of wealth does NOT mean the same thing as an equal division, and assets are not always split 50/50 between divorcing spouses. The Court instead makes these decisions based upon a variety of factors including the length of the marriage, future earning potential of each spouse, availability of social security benefits for each party, the employability of each spouse, and the mental and physical state of each party.

Settlements, mediations, and trials in Tennessee divorce law

Under divorce law in Tennessee there are several ways to arrive at a Marital Dissolution Agreement, more commonly known as a divorce settlement.

Negotiated Settlements in Tennessee Divorce Law

In the case of an uncontested divorce, a negotiated settlement outside of court is typically considered the best option for both parties. This method allows each of the spouses to compromise and negotiate the specifics of their Marital Dissolution Agreement in a more thorough manner than if the details of the divorce were decided by the Court.

The settlement process varies, depending on a variety of factors, however typically an attorney will create a proposed divorce settlement agreement, and in the case of children, a proposal for the Permanent Parenting Plan. The other party can then propose changes to the settlement, request discovery, or suggest a mediation until both parties arrive at a mutually agreeable settlement.

Mediation in Tennessee Divorce Law

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Although not always required by law, most couples going through the divorce process in the state of Tennessee are required by the ruling judge to participate in a mediation or alternative dispute resolution.

The mediation process brings in a third-party to meet with the couple, in an attempt to help them come to a resolution of contested issues outside of the courtroom. Divorce mediation in Tennessee works to help the couples reach an agreement on a wide range of issues including alimony, division of property, debt payment, and child custody.

In addition to being quicker and less stressful than a divorce trial, mediation is also a much cheaper option as it does not involve the many costs associated with a trial such as court costs and attorney fees.

Collaborative Divorce

Another alternative to a divorce litigated in the courtroom is a collaborative divorce. Similarly to a negotiated settlement or mediation, a collaborative divorce allows the parties to meet outside of Court to reach an agreement on the terms of the divorce.

In addition to attorneys, this process involves a finance professional and a mental health professional. The finance professional is present to assist with the division of assets, alimony decisions, and other matters with significant financial implications, while the mental health professional is present to provide emotional support and ensure the process moves smoothly.

Unlike a mediation or a trial, a collaborative divorce is a team process, where the divorcing couple sits down together in a supportive and emotionally healthy environment to reach mutually agreeable terms that work for both parties.

Tennessee Divorce Trial

When both parties cannot agree on the terms of their divorce through a negotiated settlement or divorce mediation, the next step is a divorce trial, which can be a drawn out and costly process in the state of Tennessee.

Before the trial, attorneys on both sides will prepare by conducting legal research, taking the depositions of various parties,

hiring expert witnesses to testify at trial, preparing statements for the opening and closing of the trial, filing any court-mandated pleadings, and preparing clients to take the stand.

When the trial date arrives, the purpose of the trial is for the judge to decide on seven main issues, which include:

TN divorce laws

Photo courtesy of Blogtepreneur via Flickr

  1. Which party will be granted divorce, and the grounds on which the divorce is to be granted
  2. The division of any marital assets as well as debts
  3. If children are involved, which party will be given primary custody of the child, as well as a residential schedule
  4. If alimony should be awarded, and if it will be permanent or temporary
  5. If children are involved, the amount of child support that will be awarded
  6. Which party will be responsible for the court costs
  7. If the attorney’s fees will or will not be awarded

Typical divorce trials in the state of Tennessee can last anywhere from part of a day to several weeks. This depends on many variables, including the judge that is presiding over the trial and the schedule of the Court.

The typical trial proceedings begin with the plaintiff’s lawyer bringing their case against the defendant by introducing evidence and calling witnesses. After this, the defense brings their case, after which the plaintiff may be given the opportunity to rebut the arguments and evidence of the defense. Finally, the judge hears closing arguments from each party’s legal counsel.

After each side has presented their case, the judge can either give an immediate ruling or decide to take the matter under advisement, which means they will further review the evidence and issue a written opinion at a later date.

Are you planning to file for divorce in Tennessee?

As you can see, the process of getting a divorce in Tennessee can be a difficult one for all parties involved. However, understanding how filing for divorce in Tennessee works and what the timeline will look like often eases some of the stress of the situation.

If you are looking for an experienced divorce attorney serving Nashville and the surrounding area, our team of experts are here to help! Contact us today to and let us walk you through it.

Ken Phillips
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