Tennessee Divorce FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce in Tennessee

The following sections provide general information on the various procedural and administrative aspects of divorce, custody, support, visitation, and property division settling the marital estate. You can bank on the fact that there is an exception to every answer in this guide. Thus, the need for an attorney to evaluate your specific situation.

Who can file for divorce in Tennessee?
To file for divorce in Tennessee, the court must have jurisdiction (power) over the parties. The spouse filing for divorce must be a resident when the grounds for divorce arose. If the grounds for divorce arose outside Tennessee, at least one of the spouses must have been a Tennessee resident for 6 months prior to filing. Divorce may be filed in any of the following counties:
the county in which both spouses lived at the time of their separation
the county in which the defendant lives if he or she is a resident of Tennessee
the county in which the plaintiff lives if the defendant is a non-resident of Tennessee.

What are the grounds for divorce in Tennessee?
Any of the following grounds may be used for divorce in Tennessee:
No Fault
Irreconcilable differences;

Fault Based Grounds
conviction of a felony and imprisonment;
alcoholism and/or drug addiction;
wife is pregnant by another at the time of marriage – without husband’s knowledge;
willful desertion for 1 year;
endangering the life of the spouse;
commission and/or conviction of an infamous crime;
refusing to move to Tennessee with a spouse and willfully absenting oneself from a new residence for 2 years.
Living separate and apart for 2 years without cohabitation when there are no minor children. This was added for the specific purpose of allowing John Bragg (a long time member of the Tennessee legislature) to get a divorce.

What is a legal separation?
This may be sought instead of a divorce and is awarded based upon the same grounds as a divorce. The agreement or court order resolves many of the same issues as in a divorce, but leaves the parties married. Note that after two years a divorce may be sought based upon the parties living apart. This action is seen by some as a way to try to save the marriage, it rarely works.

How long does it take to get a divorce in Tennessee?
For uncontested divorces Tennessee has a 60 day waiting period, if there are no minor children, and 90 days if there are minor children of the parties from the date the divorce is filed, before the divorce can be final. Contested divorces can take as much as one or two years to finish.

What is “Service” of Process?
Unless the defendant spouse signs an acknowledgment of service, (agreed divorce), he or she is entitled to legal ‘service’ i.e. notice that a divorce has been filed. Personal service may be by either a Sheriff or other person appointed by the court to make legal service. The Sheriff or process server actually hands the divorce papers to the defendant and completes a return of service stating that they did in fact personally deliver the divorce papers to the defendant. The Return of Service is then filed with the clerk as proof that the defendant was duly served. The defendant is not required to sign anything when they are served with divorce papers. They are entitled to notice. They are not required to sign anything or give their consent to a divorce. (See the section below for service of a ‘missing’ spouse).

Can a divorce be granted if the defendant’s whereabouts are unknown?
If the filing spouse has made a ‘good faith effort’ to locate the missing spouse, and can swear under oath and penalty of perjury that they do not know the current whereabouts of the defendant and have made an effort to locate them, the missing defendant can be ‘served’ by publication of a notice in a local newspaper.

How is property divided in a Tennessee divorce?
Tennessee is an “equitable distribution” state, generally meaning that all marital property acquired during the marriage is subject to division. Property brought into the marriage i.e. that a person had before the marriage are not subject to division in a divorce.

How are marital debts divided in a Tennessee divorce?
Most divorcing spouses set out who will pay what debts as part of their marital settlement agreement during the divorce process, and close all of their joint accounts.

Does Tennessee have Alimony?
Yes. Tennessee has a specific statute setting out the guidelines used by Courts to determine alimony. Alimony may be awarded to either spouse for their support and maintenance after the divorce. It is generally based on the financial circumstances of the divorcing spouses. The needs of one spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay are the primary factors in determining alimony.

Are there guidelines for custody of children in Tennessee?
Yes. Tennessee has a specific statute setting out the guidelines used by Courts to determine by comparative analysis for initial custody determination. For more detailed information …

How is Child Support determined in Tennessee?
Tennessee has guidelines for determining the amount of child support to be paid. The guideline amount is presumed to arrive at an amount of support that is in the child’s best interest. Parents are generally NOT able to agree to pay child support below the guidelines.

What about medical insurance for the children?
The spouse paying child support is required to provide basic medical insurance for the parties children absent an agreement between the parties otherwise. Generally the parties equally pay the uncovered medical expenses. Medical insurance and payment for medical services is considered child support, payable by the non custodial parent.

How permanent are the provisions for child custody and support?
Orders providing for the support and custody of children is subject to modification after the divorce if there is a substantial change in the circumstances of the parties, such that the children have been exposed to some substantial risk by the custodial parent. The children’s “best interest” is the standard used by the Court. A comparative analysis of the parties is made at the time of the divorce, so initial custody can be an insurmountable advantage.

What is a “Parenting Plan”?
The Tennessee legislature has passed legislation that requires parents to attempt to settle their differences in a divorce by the use of mediation and parenting plans where the parties attempt to agree as to where the children will stay and when. This process is new, January 1, 2001, and will require some getting used to by the Courts and the lawyers; expect some additional costs until all the kinks are worked out.

What is an agreed divorce?
In an agreed divorce, one spouse files the papers at the local court house and gives the other spouse a copy of the filed divorce papers, etc. That spouse may waive official service of process and basically acknowledge that they have received a copy of the divorce papers and that the divorce may proceed without them having to do anything else or even having to appear at the final divorce hearing.

What is a default divorce?
In a default divorce, only one spouse (the one filing the divorce) is required to sign the anything. One spouse files the divorce papers. The other spouse is then notified by being delivered a copy of the divorce papers by the Sheriff, other authorized process server, or by certified mail. The spouse being “served” with the divorce papers is not required to sign anything. All that is required is proof that they were notified – not their consent. You cannot force someone to stay married to you. However, by allowing a default divorce to be taken against you, you may be giving up life changing rights.

What if I don’t know where my spouse is?
If you don’t know where your spouse can be found to be ‘served’ (notified), and you have made a good faith effort to locate them, you can still get your divorce. Missing spouses can be ‘notified’ by running a notice in a local newspaper. This requires the use of an attorney to assure success.

What is the basic procedure to get a divorce?
The basic procedural steps to divorce:
File divorce papers
Sign a Marital Dissolution Agreement if Uncontested
If contested, notify spouse
If contested, spouse files an answer to divorce papers
If contested, the parties’ attorneys engage in discovery process, i.e., fact finding
If contested, a trial is held and a Final Decree of Divorce issued
If uncontested, a Final Divorce Decree is issued after a brief hearing to determine whether the agreement of the parties meets Tennessee requirements (judge approves the parties agreement and grants the divorce)

What does it cost to file a divorce?
Filing fees and court costs vary from county to county please contact our Family Law Attorney, Amanda Crowell for an appointment at 615-444-3900.