Tennessee Divorce Laws FAQs | Filing for Divorce in Tennessee & Forms
Tennessee divorce laws and filing for divorce in Tennessee answers to frequently asked questions by Miles Mason, Sr., JD, CPA, Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC.
Where can I find out about Tennessee divorce laws affecting my case?
Most Tennessee divorce and family laws are found in Chapter 36 of the Tennessee Code and in opinions from the Tennessee courts.
I have tried reading Tennessee’s divorce statutes, but only get confused.
Understandably so. Statutes are hard to read. Also, understanding the statutes doesn’t necessarily tell you how your case will turn out, because each judge can interpret or apply these laws differently because the facts of every case are different.
Tennessee Divorce Law Resources
Grounds for Tennessee Divorce
So what is a person to do?
Hire an experienced Tennessee family law attorney with whom you are comfortable and whom you trust.
If I moved out of the marital home to another state, where do I file for divorce?
You must be a Tennessee resident for six months to file for divorce here. If you have moved to Tennessee from another state recently, discuss your options with your attorney.
Which county do I file in?
Most likely in the county where you last lived with your spouse. If neither of you are still living in that county, you probably can file in the county where either you or your spouse live.
How long do I have to live in Tennessee before I can get a divorce here?
Generally speaking, you have to be domiciled in Tennessee at least six months.
Are there any exceptions?
Maybe. If you are the victim of abuse or if there is some other emergency reason, you may be able to file immediately.
What if my spouse lives in another state?
That makes your case more complicated. Definitely check with an attorney.
What kinds of complications?
If the court in Tennessee does not have jurisdiction, you may be wasting your time and money by filing here. First, you will need to “serve” divorce papers on your spouse out of state. “Serving papers” means giving official notice.
How do I serve papers?
A sheriff or a process server in your spouse’s home state may serve process. Sometimes you may also send copies by certified mail to your spouse’s residence or, if you don’t know where your spouse is, publish a legal notice in a newspaper selected by the court.
I can manage that. But is it expensive?
That depends on how much the local sheriff or private process server charges, but usually fees are under $75. Publishing a legal notice can be more expensive. Depending on the newspaper, you can spend $100 or more.
What happens if my spouse and I agree on everything? Do we still need a lawyer?
Technically, no. Practically, yes.
An experienced family lawyer will still need to draft or review your agreement to make sure everything is done correctly. There are so many issues to be considered that it’s best if you have a lawyer with an ethical duty to explain things to you and represent your best interests. Very few lawyers will represent both parties because of the potential for a conflict of interest.
If you still want to handle your divorce on your own, you can see the Supreme Court of Tennessee’s approved divorce forms designed for the general public not represented by counsel.
What do you mean by a conflict of interest?
If one lawyer represents both parties, the lawyer cannot advise either party to try for better settlement terms.
What are the grounds for absolute divorce in Tennessee?
Grounds must be proven or agreed. Grounds for divorce include the following:
- Either party, at the time of the contract, was and still is naturally impotent and incapable of procreation;
- Either party has knowingly entered into a second marriage, in violation of a previous marriage, still subsisting;
- Either party has committed adultery;
- Willful or malicious desertion or absence of either party, without a reasonable cause, for one (1) whole year;
- Being convicted of any crime which, by the laws of the state, renders the party infamous;
- Being convicted of a crime which, by the laws of the state, is declared to be a felony, and sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary;
- Either party has attempted the life of the other, by poison or any other means showing malice;
- Refusal, on the part of a spouse, to remove with that person’s spouse to this state, without a reasonable cause, and being willfully absent from the spouse residing in Tennessee for two (2) years;
- The wife was pregnant at the time of the marriage, by another person, without the knowledge of the husband;
- Habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotic drugs by either party, when the spouse has contracted either such habit after marriage;
- Irreconcilable differences between the parties;
- For a continuous period of two (2) or more years which commenced prior to or after April 18, 1985, both parties have lived in separate residences, the parties have not cohabitated as man and wife during such period, and there are no minor children of the parties;
- The husband or wife is guilty of such cruel and inhuman treatment or conduct towards the spouse as renders cohabitation unsafe and improper, which may also be referred to in pleadings as inappropriate marital conduct;
- The husband has offered such indignities to the wife’s person as to render the wife’s condition intolerable, and thereby forced the wife to withdraw; and,
- The husband has abandoned the wife, or turned the wife out of doors, and refused or neglected to provide for the wife.
How long does a divorce take in Tennessee?
A mutual-consent, no-fault divorce typically takes about two to six months. Most of that time is spent assembling the needed information about the marital residence, debts, retirement, and other financial details. If the parties can agree to a settlement quickly, then the divorce can be granted as soon as the minimum length of time required expires.
There is a 60-day “cooling -off” period after the complaint is filed if there are no children. If the parties have children, the law requires a minimum of 90 days to pass following the date of the filing of the complaint. A contested divorce can last over a year.
Finally, if the parties agree to divide a pension, it might take an additional 60 days or longer after the divorce is granted to complete the division of property.
Can I get an annulment?
Rarely. Annulments may be had if the marriage was illegal (i.e., incestuous) or based on fraud or duress. An annulment can also be had if one party was underage. The rules and applications can be complex. The law also prevents annulments from causing children to be illegitimate. In an annulment situation, alimony is not available and property rights will be restored as if the marriage had not taken place.
What is a legal separation?
A legal separation allows for the court-ordered support and maintenance of a spouse without the actual granting of a divorce. Either party can sue for divorce later. A legal separation can be as expensive as a divorce, and only makes sense in very rare circumstances.
Can I change my last name at the time of divorce?
Yes. The only limitation is that a person cannot change names to perpetrate a fraud. Changing a last name to return to a prior last name is common after divorce.
References, Resources and More:
- Download our free e-Book, Your First Steps: 7 Steps Planning Your Tennessee Divorce.
- The Tennessee Divorce Process: How Divorces Work Start to Finish
- Court-approved Tennessee Divorce Forms
- Tennessee Child Support Handbook
- Divorce Referee – Memphis, Shelby County Tennessee
- Divorce Forms – Shelby County, Tennessee Chancery Court Forms
- American Bar Association Family Law Section – Law in the 50 States
- Tennessee Bar Association Family Law Section – News
- Breakin’ Up Is Hard to Do | Tennessee Bar Journal Article