How to File for a Divorce in Tennessee Without an Attorney
By Fraser Sherman
Updated March 15, 2019
man and woman divorced image by Ivonne Wierink from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>
To get a divorce in Tennessee you must file the appropriate paperwork with your county's clerk of court, notify your spouse, then attend a court hearing, when necessary. Divorce may take as little as two months if you have no minor children. If your spouse challenges your request for divorce, it can drag on for much longer.
Paperwork and Fees
You can download the paperwork from the state court website or pick it up from the county courthouse. The basic papers to begin a divorce proceeding include:
- Civil Case Cover Sheet
- Complaint for Divorce requesting the court to end your marriage
- Summons notifying your spouse you want a divorce
- Divorce Certificate
- Temporary Parenting Plan if you have minor children
Depending on your situation, you may need to file more than a dozen forms with the court.
If you serve a summons, but your spouse fails to respond in the required time period, you can ask the court for a default judgment granting your divorce.
Filing fees normally run around $250 in Tennessee. That includes the fee to have the summons and a copy of the complaint delivered to your spouse. If you can't afford the fee, you can file an affidavit of indigency asking the court to defer payment.
If you need help, turn to online legal references or free legal aid groups to identify the papers you need and to help you fill them out correctly. Court staff can't do it for you.
Parenting Education Class
If you have children, you and your spouse have to attend a parenting education seminar within 30 days of filing. You don't have to attend together. These classes instruct you and your spouse in how to deal with your kids and each other, during and after the divorce. After four hours of classes, you can submit a certificate of attendance to the court.
If you or your spouse don't attend the seminar, the judge can't deny you a divorce, but she can take your nonattendance into account when making decisions about child custody.
Going to Court
In Tennessee, an uncontested divorce is one based on "irreconcilable differences" – the marriage just isn't working out. Any other grounds – adultery, drug addiction, bigamy, desertion – is a contested divorce.
In an uncontested divorce, if you and your spouse agree on financial issues, such as alimony and division of property, you can file a Marital Dissolution Agreement with your divorce paperwork. If the judge approves the terms, the hearing should be simple and quick. Some Tennessee counties don't even require you to attend the hearing, but they're the exception. In a contested divorce, when spouses don't agree on the issues, a trial will be held and the judge will set the terms of the divorce based on what's legal and fair to both parties.
If you file for any reason besides irreconcilable differences, you have to show up in court and bring a witness to testify that whatever grounds for divorce you give in the complaint are valid. Your spouse has the right to dispute your claims, cross-examine your witnesses and bring in his own. In some contested cases, this has dragged the divorce out for more than a year.
It's a good idea for both spouses to show up in court even in an uncontested divorce. If the judge doesn't approve the terms of the dissolution agreement or the parenting plan, it'll be easier to make changes quickly if you're both in attendance.
- Bowing out of a relationship with a sense of dignity and without hostility, can put both parties well ahead of the game when it comes to emotional recovery.
- If you are unable to find common ground with your spouse regarding the divorce, it may benefit you to seek the aid of an attorney. Contested divorces are far more complicated, expensive, and time consuming.
A Durham, NC resident, Fraser has written about law, starting a business, balancing your budget and fighting evictions, among other legal and financial topics.