Grounds for Divorce in Tennessee

By Elizabeth Rayne, J.D.

black and white view of a couple upset with each other

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From attempted murder to refusal to move to the state, the law in Tennessee allows couples to claim some unique grounds for divorce. While a couple may seek a "no-fault" divorce on the basis of irreconcilable differences, the state also allows divorce for fault, which places the blame on one spouse. The Tennessee law lays out the available grounds for divorce, such as adultery, bigamy or cruelty. Whether the divorce is filed on the grounds of desertion or habitual drunkenness, the court may consider marital misconduct in deciding the final divorce decree.

No-Fault Divorce

In filing for a divorce in Tennessee, you may assert irreconcilable differences, meaning that neither spouse is at fault. After filing a complaint for divorce based on irreconcilable differences, the state imposes a waiting period before the court will enter a divorce decree. If the couple has children under 18 years old, the waiting period will be 90 days, and 60 days without children. There is no waiting period if the divorce is filed based on the fault of either party.


Some of the grounds for divorce in Tennessee are also grounds for annulment, which effectively voids the marriage as if it never existed. Tennessee courts will grant an annulment in cases of incestuous marriages between "lineal" relatives, such as a parent and child, or grandparent. A marriage will also be voided if either party was under 16 years old at the time of the marriage or if one party was still married to someone else. Courts have also granted annulments in cases where one spouse was found incurably insane, impotent or where the wife was pregnant with another man's baby at the time of the marriage without the husband's knowledge.

Other Fault Grounds

Tennessee law recognizes numerous other grounds for divorce. Like many states, Tennessee will grant a divorce on the grounds of adultery, cruel and inhuman treatment, or willful or malicious desertion. Additionally, the law recognizes somewhat unusual grounds for divorce, including an attempted murder of one spouse by the other, or if one spouse refuses to move to Tennessee. Further if one party is convicted of a crime that renders the spouse "infamous" in the eyes of society, the other spouse may file for divorce.

Effect of Marital Misconduct on Divorce

In ordering the divorce decree, which includes custody determinations, alimony awards and property division, the court has discretion to consider the marital misconduct of either spouse. If the court finds it just, it may determine the divorce decree without taking marital misconduct into consideration. However, in cases where one spouse used marital property to pay for hotel rooms to commit adultery, for example, the court may award the other spouse a more favorable property distribution as a result. Similarly, a court may see adultery or cruelty as evidence of poor judgment and inadequate parenting, and take this into consideration when determining a custody arrangement.