Statute of Abandonment in Tennessee

By David Carnes

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Tennessee, like other states, grants a divorce without the need to allege fault on the part of either spouse. Tennessee also grants a divorce for acts that were the fault of a spouse. Grounds for a no-fault or at-fault divorce based on abandonment may exist if the spouses are not living together. However, in a few select cases, these grounds may still be available to spouses who are still living together.

Irreconcilable Differences

If you can locate your spouse, obtaining a no-fault divorce in Tennessee might be easier even if your spouse abandoned you. In a no-fault divorce, you need only list "irreconcilable differences" without alleging the fault of either spouse, and without mentioning abandonment or any other grounds for divorce in your divorce petition. You may obtain a divorce on this ground even over your spouse's objections; the act of objecting to a divorce petition is itself evidence of an "irreconcilable difference."

No-Fault Abandonment

If you have no minor children and you have been living apart from your spouse for at least two years, you may petition a Tennessee state court to grant a no-fault divorce. You need not allege that your spouse abandoned you and you can obtain a divorce in this manner even if you were the one who abandoned your spouse.

Willful Desertion

Obtaining an at-fault divorce may help you secure terms of divorce that are more favorable to you. Willful desertion is one of the at-fault grounds for divorce in Tennessee. To establish willful desertion, you must show that your spouse willfully or maliciously deserted the marital residence for at least one year and you have been living apart during that time. You may be required to establish you attempted to locate your spouse. Your spouse must have deserted you; you cannot obtain a divorce on this ground if you were the one who deserted your spouse.

"Constructive Abandonment"

Your spouse has "constructively" abandoned you if his treatment of you amounts to the functional equivalent of physical abandonment, even if he still lives in the marital residence. Constructive abandonment may be based on several different at-fault grounds for divorce, including impotence, bigamy, indignities that make the petitioning spouse's life unbearable, cruel treatment, neglect and banning you from the marital residence.