Steps for Tennessee Divorce
By Bernadette A. Safrath
Updated April 01, 2020
Tennessee law is designed to make the divorce process as quick and inexpensive as possible. The time and cost of a divorce largely depend on the spouses' ability to cooperate with each other during that difficult time. During the divorce proceeding, the court will divide marital assets and award alimony, if necessary.
If you plan to file for divorce in Tennessee, you must first make sure you meet the state's requirements for residency and grounds for divorce. To be eligible for a divorce, at least one spouse must have resided in Tennessee for no less than six months prior to filing. Tennessee recognizes fault and no-fault divorce grounds. No-fault grounds are generally "irreconcilable differences," meaning spouses agree there is conflict in the marriage they are unable to repair. Fault grounds include abandonment for a period of one year, separation for a period of two years, adultery, one spouse's conviction for a felony, habitual drug or alcohol abuse, and other inappropriate conduct within the marriage.
The divorce proceeding begins when you file a Summons and Complaint in your county of residence, in either the Circuit or Chancery Court, depending upon your county. The divorce papers must then be served on your spouse. You or your attorney can hire a process server or ask the sheriff's office to serve the complaint. If your spouse consents, you can mail the papers. In that instance, a Waiver of Service of Process must be signed and filed. If your divorce is based on fault grounds, the next step is proving the other spouse's misconduct. You will need to present evidence, such as photos of infidelity.
Once the divorce grounds are affirmed, marital assets must be divided. If you and your spouse can agree to a settlement, you can sign a Marital Settlement Agreement. If you cannot, the court will divide property. First, you and your spouse will receive your separate property, which includes anything you owned prior to marriage, anything you received as a gift or inheritance during the marriage and any personal injury or other award you received from a lawsuit during the marriage. Next, the court will divide your marital assets equitably, which means fairly, but not necessarily equally. The court will consider the length of the marriage, value of each spouse's separate property, income, role in the marriage (primary wage earner vs. homemaker) and financial needs.
Lastly, the court may award alimony or spousal support. In Tennessee, alimony is awarded for rehabilitative purposes. This means that if you are unable to be self-supporting with your income and assets received during property distribution, your spouse may be required to pay you alimony for a period of time until you can. The court considers several factors in determining the amount and duration of alimony payments, including the spouses' ages and health conditions, length of the marriage, each spouse's income, value of each spouse's assets, owing spouse's ability to pay while still meeting his own needs and any fault leading to the divorce.
If the spouses have children, custody and support must be decided. Either spouse can seek custody of the children, regardless of gender. Tennessee courts decide custody based on the "best interests of the child." Generally, the noncustodial parent will be awarded visitation and a schedule will be set. Once custody is decided, the court will order the noncustodial parent to pay child support. The support amount is based on the parents' combined income and then apportioned for the parent owing support.
There are two waiting periods associated with a divorce proceeding. If all issues are addressed and you and your spouse do not have children, a Tennessee court will finalize the divorce after a 60 day waiting period. If there are minor children, the waiting period is 90 days. After the divorce, there is an additional waiting period before you and your spouse are permitted to remarry. You can get married again after the 30-day appeal period passes.
Bernadette A. Safrath is an attorney who has been writing professionally since 2008. Safrath was published in Touro Law Center's law review and now writes legal articles for various websites. Safrath has a Bachelor of Arts in music from Long Island University at C.W. Post, as well as a Juris Doctor from Touro College.