What Happens When I Contest a Divorce in Tennessee?
By Beverly Bird
You might want to contest your divorce for any number of reasons. You might object to your spouse’s grounds -- Tennessee recognizes 12 different fault grounds, some of them quite creative -- or you might disagree with what your spouse is asking the court to grant her in the divorce. Either way, your divorce will take longer and involve more steps and requirements.
Answering Your Spouse’s Complaint
After your spouse serves you with a copy of her divorce complaint, you have 30 days in which to answer and contest it in Tennessee. You would generally do this by filing an answer and counterclaim with the court, but consult with an attorney first to make sure this document best suits your interests. In the answer segment, you can deny or claim ignorance of each of the facts claimed in the complaint, including your spouse’s grounds. The counterclaim segment acts as your own complaint for divorce. In this part, you can allege your own grounds and ask for your own relief, such as how you would like a judge to divide your property and resolve issues of custody and support. In some Tennessee counties, you must also pay a $500 cash bond at the time you file your answer and counterclaim, guaranteeing you’ll pay the court costs involved with contesting the divorce.
Pendente Lite Orders
Depending on how contentious your divorce is, you can ask the court for pendente lite relief – an order pending your final divorce decree -- after you file your answer and counterclaim. For example, your spouse may be refusing to allow you to see your children. You can ask the court to address issues of custody and visitation until your divorce is final. Pendente lite relief involves filing a motion with the court. In Tennessee, court referees usually hear these motions, not judges. Court referees are impartial court-appointed attorneys.
When you contest your divorce, the court gives you about six months to prepare for trial. Trial requires that you provide the court with all the facts and details regarding any issues you're contesting. If you're contesting your spouse's grounds, you'll need proof that you didn't commit the act or acts she's accusing you of. If you think your spouse should not receive alimony, you'll have to show why she does not require your financial assistance post-divorce. You can use the six months to collect this information through discovery procedures. Discovery methods include sending your spouse a list of written questions that you’re demanding answers to under oath, called interrogatories. You can demand financial documentation from your spouse by issuing her a request for production of documents. You can also depose your spouse or anyone else who has pertinent information regarding your marriage, asking questions under oath in the presence of a court reporter. You're usually responsible for paying the court reporter.
Parent Education and Mediation
Some Tennessee judges will not schedule your contested divorce for trial unless you and your spouse attend mediation first to try to settle the contested issues on your own. If you have children, you’re also required to attend a parent education class, even if custody is not the aspect of your divorce that you’re contesting.
When you’re satisfied that you’ve learned all you can through your discovery efforts, and after you’ve attended mediation and the parenting class, you can ask the court to schedule a trial date. At trial, you and your spouse can each present witnesses and show the court the documentation you’ve gathered through discovery. The judge will decide contested issues for you and make a ruling.
- The Law Office of Jeremy A. Davis: Contested Divorce in Tennessee
- Southeast Tennessee Legal Services: Contested Divorce (PDF)
- Ferrell Law Firm: Tennessee Divorce FAQs
- DivorceLawFirms.com: Filing a Contested Divorce in Tennessee
- Divorce Source: Tennessee – Grounds For Divorce in Tennessee
- Court Runner: Local Rules of Civil Practice – Hamilton County, Tennessee
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.