Divorce in Tennessee, Step-by-Step

Divorce is a complex and emotionally challenging process that can significantly impact all aspects of one’s life. For those facing this difficult transition in Tennessee, understanding the legal steps involved is crucial. This guide provides a clear, step-by-step overview of the divorce process in Tennessee, from the initial stages to the finalization of the divorce decree.

Understanding Divorce in Tennessee

Divorce in Tennessee can be based on fault or no-fault grounds. The state allows for divorce on several grounds, including adultery, abandonment, and irreconcilable differences. Understanding the grounds for divorce is critical as it can affect the course of the legal proceedings.

Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce in Tennessee

In Tennessee, individuals seeking a divorce can choose between a fault-based divorce and a no-fault divorce. Understanding the distinctions between these two types of divorce is crucial, as the chosen ground can impact the proceedings, including the division of marital assets, alimony, and the divorce timeline.

No-Fault Divorce

A no-fault divorce is where the parties agree that their marriage has irretrievably broken down without specific blame assigned to either party. This option tends to be quicker and less contentious than a fault-based divorce.

Qualifications for No-Fault Divorce:

Irreconcilable Differences: The most common ground for a no-fault divorce. Both parties must agree that the marriage cannot be saved and there are irreconcilable differences.

Living Apart: The spouses must have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years without cohabitation, and they must not have any minor children.

The no-fault divorce process generally requires less proof and, as such, can lead to a quicker resolution. It also helps in maintaining a more amicable relationship between divorcing spouses, which is particularly beneficial if children are involved.

Fault Divorce

Fault divorces are based on one party alleging that the other party is to blame for the failure of the marriage due to specific misconduct. Tennessee recognizes several statutory grounds for a fault-based divorce.

Qualifications for Fault Divorce:

Adultery: One spouse has had voluntary sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse.

Desertion: One spouse has willfully or maliciously deserted the other without a reasonable cause for one whole year.

Felony Conviction: One spouse has been convicted of a felony and is imprisoned.

Habitual Drunkenness or Drug Abuse: One spouse’s habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotic drugs that began after the marriage.

Cruel and Inhuman Treatment: One spouse has treated the other so cruelly and inhumanely as to render continued cohabitation unsafe or improper.

Attempt on Life: One spouse has made an attempt on the life of the other by poison or any other means showing malice.

Indignities: One spouse has offered such indignities to the other’s person as to render their position intolerable and life burdensome.

Opting for a fault divorce often requires more substantial evidence and may involve a more extended court process. While fault divorces can be more confrontational, they may be necessary or advantageous if one spouse needs to establish significant misconduct by the other to influence the court’s decisions on alimony, property division, or child custody.

Considerations in Choosing Fault vs. No-Fault

The decision to pursue a fault or no-fault divorce should not be taken lightly. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

Privacy and Public Records: Fault divorces often involve airing personal grievances in a public forum, which can lead to private matters becoming court records.

Impact on Children: The adversarial nature of a fault divorce can have psychological effects on children, who may be caught in the middle of contentious proceedings.

Cost and Duration: Fault divorces typically require more legal resources and time, which can lead to higher costs and a longer divorce process.

Strategic Considerations: In some cases, proving fault may significantly affect the outcomes regarding alimony or property division. For instance, proving that a spouse wasted marital assets on an affair might impact how assets are divided.

Divorce lawyers typically recommend choosing the type of divorce that best aligns with the client’s specific circumstances and goals. For many, the less adversarial, more streamlined process of a no-fault divorce aligns with their needs; for others, a fault-based divorce may be necessary to adequately address serious marital misconduct.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in Tennessee

In Tennessee, divorces can be broadly categorized into contested and uncontested. The distinction between these types significantly impacts the process, duration, and emotional toll of the proceedings. Understanding the differences and processes of each type is crucial for anyone considering a divorce in the state.

Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce, often referred to as an agreed divorce, is where both parties agree on all major aspects of the divorce, including asset division, debt allocation, alimony, child support, and custody arrangements. This type of divorce is typically faster, less expensive, and less adversarial than a contested divorce.

Process for Uncontested Divorce:

Mutual Agreement: Both parties must agree to all terms of the divorce without dispute.

Preparation of Documents: All necessary documents, including the divorce agreement and parenting plan (if applicable), must be prepared, detailing all agreed-upon terms.

Filing: One spouse files the petition for divorce along with the agreement at the local court.

Waiting Period: Tennessee law requires a mandatory waiting period after filing the divorce petition—60 days if there are no minor children and 90 days if there are minor children involved.

Final Hearing: After the waiting period, a brief hearing is typically held where the judge reviews the agreement to ensure it is fair and meets legal standards. If approved, the judge will issue the final divorce decree.

Uncontested divorces are ideal for spouses who wish to end their marriage amicably and are able to cooperate in negotiating the terms of their divorce. The process encourages a smoother transition post-divorce and is generally less harmful to any children involved.

Contested Divorce

A contested divorce occurs when the spouses cannot agree on one or more key issues. The contested issues can include but are not limited to, child custody, division of assets and liabilities, alimony, or child support. This type of divorce typically involves more complex legal procedures and can be emotionally and financially draining.

Process for Contested Divorce:

Filing the Complaint: One spouse files a complaint for divorce, stating the grounds for the divorce and outlining the contested issues.

Service of Process: The complaint and summons must be legally served to the other spouse, giving them notice of the divorce action.

Response: The served spouse has a set period (typically 30 days) to file an answer to the complaint, in which they can agree with, deny, or claim ignorance to the allegations. They may also file counterclaims.

Discovery: Both parties engage in the discovery process, exchanging documents and information related to the divorce. This phase may include interrogatories, depositions, and requests for document production.

Pre-Trial Motions and Hearings: Either party can file motions to resolve preliminary issues or request temporary orders related to child support, custody, or alimony pending the final divorce.

Mediation: In many cases, the court may require the parties to undergo mediation to try to resolve their disputes before going to trial.

Trial: If mediation fails, the divorce will proceed to trial where each party presents their case, including evidence and witness testimony.

Judgment: The judge will make a final decision on all contested issues and issue a divorce decree based on the findings.

Contested divorces are more adversarial and can be lengthy, depending on the complexity of the issues and the degree of disagreement between the spouses. They often require more extensive legal representation and can be more costly due to the increased amount of attorney’s time, court fees, and other expenses associated with prolonged litigation.

Choosing the Right Path

The choice between a contested and uncontested divorce often depends on the specific circumstances of the marriage and the ability of spouses to communicate and negotiate. In any case, consulting with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer is crucial. A lawyer can provide valuable advice on legal rights and obligations, help negotiate and draft settlement agreements, and represent the client’s interests in court if necessary.

Consider Mediation

Mediation is a highly recommended option for many couples going through a divorce in Tennessee, offering several significant benefits over traditional litigation. As a divorce lawyer, advocating for mediation is often based on its advantages in facilitating a smoother, more efficient, and generally less contentious divorce process. Here are several reasons why couples should consider mediation when facing a divorce in Tennessee:

1. Cost-Effectiveness

Reduced Expenses: Mediation typically costs less than going to court because it requires fewer billable hours from attorneys and no court fees.

Shorter Time Frame: Since mediation can resolve issues more quickly than the traditional court process, it reduces the overall duration and expense of the divorce.

2. Control Over Outcomes

Collaborative Decision-Making: In mediation, both parties work together to reach mutually beneficial agreements with the help of a neutral mediator. This collaboration can lead to more satisfying outcomes than those imposed by a judge.

Tailored Solutions: Couples can create customized solutions that address their unique needs and circumstances, rather than adhering to more rigid court-imposed decisions.

3. Privacy and Confidentiality

Private Proceedings: Unlike court cases, which are public, mediation sessions are private. This allows sensitive issues to be discussed without public exposure.

Confidentiality: The details of the mediation process are generally confidential and not part of the public record, providing an additional layer of privacy.

4. Reduced Conflict and Stress

Less Adversarial: Mediation is inherently less confrontational than court litigation. It promotes cooperation and can help maintain amicable relationships post-divorce, which is particularly beneficial if children are involved.

Better Emotional Outcomes: The cooperative nature of mediation can reduce stress and emotional strain, helping both parties move forward more positively.

5. Flexibility and Convenience

Scheduling Flexibility: Mediation sessions can be scheduled at times convenient to both parties, unlike court proceedings, which are dictated by the court’s schedule.

Faster Resolutions: Mediation can be concluded in a fraction of the time it takes to schedule and hold a court trial, allowing both parties to begin their new lives sooner.

6. Preservation of Relationships

Improves Communication: By encouraging open communication and mutual understanding, mediation can help preserve relationships between divorcing spouses, which is crucial for effective co-parenting.

Reduces Impact on Children: A less adversarial process reduces the emotional impact on children, who benefit from seeing their parents work together to resolve issues.

7. Higher Compliance Rates

Jointly Crafted Agreements: Agreements that are mutually developed and agreed upon in mediation are more likely to be upheld by both parties, leading to higher compliance with the terms of the divorce settlement.

8. Legal Support Remains Available

Legal Advice: Parties can still obtain legal advice during the mediation process. Many choose to consult with their lawyers outside of the mediation sessions to ensure their rights are protected and to better understand the implications of various decisions.

Mediation is not only a tool for resolving disputes but also a pathway to a new beginning, especially in cases where ongoing interactions between parties are necessary, such as co-parenting. For many couples, choosing mediation can lead to a more positive divorce experience and set the foundation for future interactions post-divorce. It’s often encouraged to at least attempt mediation as a first step before considering the more drastic route of court litigation.

Preparing for Divorce

Before initiating a divorce, it is essential to prepare adequately to ensure the process goes smoothly.

Gather Financial Documents

When preparing for a divorce in Tennessee, it’s crucial to gather a comprehensive set of financial documents. These documents will be essential for accurately assessing assets, liabilities, income, and expenses, which are critical for determining equitable distribution, alimony, and child support. Here is a detailed bullet list of the key financial documents you should collect:

Tax Returns: Gather the last three to five years of federal and state tax returns, including all attachments and schedules. These provide a clear picture of income history and investment earnings.

Pay Stubs: Collect recent pay stubs (at least the last six months) from all employment for both spouses. This helps establish current income levels, including bonuses, overtime, or commissions.

Bank Statements: Obtain statements from the last three to five years for all checking and savings accounts held jointly or separately. These help to track spending habits, recurring expenses, and any unusual withdrawals or deposits.

Investment Account Statements: Include statements from brokerage accounts, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, and retirement accounts like 401(k)s, IRAs, and pensions. These are crucial for understanding the value and growth of investment assets.

Debt Statements: Compile recent statements for all debts, including credit card debts, car loans, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and any other personal loans. This documentation is important for accurately dividing liabilities.

Property Documents: Include deeds for any real estate owned, recent mortgage statements showing outstanding balances, and recent appraisals to ascertain current property values.

Vehicle Registrations and Titles: Gather documentation for all vehicles owned, including cars, boats, motorcycles, or recreational vehicles. This should include registration and current value assessments.

Insurance Policies: Collect policies for life, health, auto, and homeowner’s insurance, which may impact settlement decisions, particularly those related to coverage costs and beneficiaries.

Utility Bills: Recent utility bills can help establish a baseline for household monthly expenses, which is useful for budget planning post-divorce.

Estate Planning Documents: Include wills, trusts, or any other estate documents, which may need to be revised following the divorce.

Business Financial Statements: If one or both spouses own a business, include business financial statements and related documents to assess the business’s value and structure.

Loan Applications: Loan applications from recent years can provide a snapshot of declared assets, debts, and income, often giving a more optimistic view of one’s financial status.

Credit Reports: Obtain credit reports for both spouses to ensure all debts are known and to check for any irregularities or undisclosed liabilities.

Collecting these documents can be time-consuming but is essential for ensuring a fair and thorough understanding of the financial aspects of the divorce. It also helps prevent surprises during the divorce proceedings and sets the stage for equitable negotiations. Working with a skilled Franklin divorce attorney can help you understand which documents are most pertinent to your specific situation and how they might influence the divorce outcome.

Filing for Divorce

The first legal step in obtaining a divorce is to file a divorce petition.

Where to File: File the petition in the county where either spouse resides.

Documents Needed: Include personal information, marriage details, grounds for divorce, and any proposals for settlement.

Filing Fees: Be prepared to pay a filing fee, though fee waivers are available for qualifying individuals.

Serving Your Spouse

Once the divorce petition is filed, the next step is to serve the papers to the other spouse, a crucial step that legally notifies them of the divorce action.

Method of Service: This can be done via a sheriff, private process server, or certified mail.

Dealing with Evasive Spouses: If the spouse cannot be located or evades service, alternative methods like publication may be used.

Legal Implications: Proper service is necessary to proceed with the divorce legally.

Responding to a Divorce Petition

The spouse who receives the divorce petition must respond within the legal timeframe.

Response Time: Typically, there is a 30-day window to respond to the petition in Tennessee.

Failure to Respond: Not responding can lead to a default judgment against the non-responding spouse.

Counterclaims: The responding spouse may file counterclaims to contest the terms proposed by the petitioner.

The Discovery Process

Discovery is a critical phase where both parties exchange information relevant to the divorce proceedings.

Purpose: To gather evidence that will support each party’s case regarding assets, debts, custody, and more.

Discovery Tools: Includes interrogatories, depositions, and requests for production of documents.

Impact: The outcome of discovery can significantly influence negotiations and the trial.

Negotiation and Settlement

Many divorce cases are resolved through negotiation, which avoids the need for a trial.

Negotiation Strategies: Parties will discuss terms regarding asset division, alimony, child support, and custody.

Role of Attorneys and Mediators: Professionals can facilitate negotiations and help reach an amicable settlement.

Benefits of Settlement: Settling out of court is typically faster, less costly, and less emotionally draining than going to trial.

Divorce Trial

If negotiations fail, the divorce will proceed to trial.

Trial Process: Involves opening statements, witness testimony, presentation of evidence, and closing arguments.

Judge’s Role: The judge will make all final decisions regarding the divorce terms based on the evidence presented.

Issuance of Divorce Decree: The trial culminates with the issuance of a divorce decree, officially ending the marriage.

Finalizing the Divorce

Post-trial, there are several steps to finalize the divorce officially.

Issuance of Divorce Decree: The decree details the divorce terms and is issued after the trial or settlement.

Post-Divorce Modifications: If circumstances change, modifications to child support, custody, or alimony may be requested.

Updating Legal Documents: It’s important to update wills, insurance policies, and other legal documents post-divorce.

Special Considerations

Some aspects of divorce require careful consideration due to their complexity.

Handling Special Assets: Dividing assets like businesses, retirement accounts, and real estate can be complex.

Children and Co-Parenting: Decisions about custody and co-parenting should prioritize the children’s best interests.

Tax Implications: Divorce can have significant tax consequences, and understanding them is crucial.


Navigating a divorce in Tennessee requires an understanding of various legal processes and careful planning. It’s advisable to seek guidance from a knowledgeable divorce lawyer in Franklin to ensure that your rights are protected and the process is handled efficiently. This guide provides a roadmap to help you manage this challenging time with as much clarity and support as possible.

Additional Resources

For more detailed information or personalized advice, consider consulting legal professionals, financial advisors, or counseling services designed to help individuals through the divorce process.

Leave a Comment