Tennessee had one of the highest divorce rates in the country in 2021, according to the CDC. While this may suggest that marriage is no longer as attractive of an idea as it once was, the numbers show that marriage is still a goal for couples in Tennessee. Another CDC report also shows that the state had one of the highest marriage rates during that same year.
The two reports show that Tennessee has around seven marriages and three divorces for every 1,000 residents. About half of all marriages end in divorce. If you and/or your spouse are thinking about getting a divorce, you will need to know the processes and rules in your state.
The best way to obtain a favorable result during your divorce is to stay as level-headed as possible throughout the proceedings. To that end, the article below contains a summary of how divorce works in Tennessee, including a brief step-by-step guide on filing for divorce.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Tennessee
The difference between divorce and annulment in Tennessee lies in the validity of the marriage. In divorce proceedings, the marriage is considered valid, and as such, you would need to change your marital status to “divorced.”
Whereas only one spouse needs to file for divorce, both spouses must agree to a legal separation.
Legal separation does not terminate the marriage and is a temporary measure for both parties to reassess the marriage. If two years have passed and a couple is unable to resolve their conflict, they may file for divorce instead.
Annulments are rare cases because they render a marriage void, meaning it was never valid in the first place. The grounds for filing an annulment include insanity, fraud, or duress. Since the marriage is void after an annulment, you would change your marital status to “single” rather than “divorced.”
In all three proceedings, you and your partner will need to enter into an agreement regarding child support, division of marital debt, spousal support, and the like.
Is Tennessee a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Tennessee allows both no-fault and fault divorces. In a no-fault divorce, also known as an uncontested divorce, the petitioners must state that they are ending their marriage because of irreconcilable differences. Additionally, the couple must come to an agreement on all issues that will be involved in their divorce.
To prove that the spouses have no outstanding issues to resolve, they must come up with a marital dissolution agreement. Furthermore, those who have minor children will have to submit a parenting plan.
If a couple has no children and has been separated for at least two years, then they may also file for divorce, but without having to submit the same documents as those required for spouses who have children.
In a fault divorce, one spouse blames the other for the breakdown of the marriage. The grounds for a fault divorce in Tennessee include, but are not limited to, the following:
The spouse who filed the complaint needs to prove their claim in court before a fault divorce can be granted.
How to File for Divorce in Tennessee
The first step to filing for divorce in Tennessee is ensuring that you (as the plaintiff or the one filing the case) have lived in the state for at least six months before the divorce.
Once this requirement has been met, the section below outlines the steps you’ll need to take regarding filling out the necessary forms, negotiating settlements, preparing for mediation, and potentially taking your case to court.
1. Complete the Necessary Forms
You will need to submit a Petition for Divorce (which is also referred to as a Complaint for Divorce) before the divorce proceedings can begin.
Keep in mind that you will need to visit your county clerk’s office for this form, as the state of Tennessee has a standardized version.
Complaints for divorce will generally include the following information:
Date and time of marriage.
Date of separation.
Reasons for filing for divorce.
List of assets and debts.
List of incomes.
Information regarding minor children.
Couples going through an agreed or uncontested divorce can fill out one of two court-approved divorce forms.
Unlike the state-specific documents, these two forms are “universally acceptable as legally sufficient.” As long as the information provided is truthful and both parties have signed it, any state court that hears divorce cases can accept the petition.
Regardless of whether you are going through a contested or uncontested divorce, your divorce form must be notarized before it is filed.
2. File the Complaint
Plaintiffs must file for divorce in the county they reside in or where the grounds for divorce took place.
Once the Petition for Divorce has been filed, it will have to be sent to your county’s Clerk of Court. Your file will then be assigned a case number and issued a Divorce Summons, which will officially begin the proceedings.
It is important to keep in mind that filing fees vary by county; if plaintiffs are unable to pay for these fees, they can also submit a Request to Postpone Filing Fees.
3. Serve the Divorce Papers
There are three methods for serving divorce papers in Tennessee: through the respective county office, by mail, or with the help of a private process server.
For those planning to serve divorce papers by mail, keep in mind that the receiving spouse (or their attorney) has to sign a Waiver of Service of Process.
Your spouse has 30 days to file a counter-complaint if they have any issues with what you have written on your form and/or want to make requests of their own.
4. Begin Settlement Negotiations
Settlement negotiations are an opportunity for you and your spouse to reach a favorable agreement before presenting your case to the court.
Spouses can reach a settlement on their own, or they can enlist the help of lawyers to settle on their behalf. Third-party mediation is also an option.
Depending on the specifics of your case, you may need to undergo discovery. Discovery usually occurs when a settlement cannot be reached.
In the discovery process, you and/or your spouse may request information through the following means:
Spouses can also opt for an informal discovery process, where their lawyers will request and exchange information through letters, phone calls, or e-mails.
5. Complete the Parenting Education Seminar
Couples with minor children are required to attend a parenting education seminar as part of the divorce proceedings.
The seminar will take a minimum of four hours of classroom time, but some courts may extend this requirement. If this is the case, the seminar may take up more than one classroom session. The cost of this seminar will vary by judicial district. When preparing to file for divorce, you may want to begin researching seminar providers in your area.
Couples will also have to create a Parenting Plan as part of their divorce, as this is mandatory in Tennessee. Aside from child support and custody agreements, parents will also have to declare whether they have taken the mandatory parenting class.
6. Undergo Mediation
Tennessee’s Rule 31 states that you and your spouse may be ordered to resolve your conflict through mediation prior to taking the case to court.
Unlike settlements that typically consist of each spouse and their respective attorneys, mediation requires the presence of a neutral third party (or mediator). The end goal of mediation is to have both spouses reach a voluntary agreement regarding all the specifics of their case, from alimony to debt division.
Prior to your mediation session, you are encouraged to make a list of non-negotiables, such as certain visitation dates, as well as potential areas of compromise.
The mediation can take the whole day and will occur at your mediator’s office.
7. Take the Case to Trial
In the event that an agreement cannot be reached through mediation, the last step in the divorce process is to take your case to court.
Depending on the court, you may either be assigned a trial date or be asked to apply for one. Once the date is set, your attorney will begin pre-trial preparations such as:
Collecting witness testimonies and depositions.
Finding appellate cases with similar details to your case.
Preparing you for testifying.
Your case may take up to several months to complete, as judges will typically hold separate hearings for alimony, custody, and property division. Keep in mind that the judge may take some time after the hearing to come to a decision.
How Property Is Divided in a Tennessee Divorce
Tennessee is an equitable distribution state, which means marital property is not necessarily divided equally among spouses.
Marital property refers to any property that was acquired either by you or your spouse during your marriage, such as houses, cars, and investments. When dividing up marital property, a judge may take the following factors into consideration:
How long did the marriage last?
How much is each spouse’s income and earning potential?
How old is each spouse?
How physically and mentally healthy is each spouse?
How much is each spouse’s separate property?
The judge may also take into account how much alimony each spouse gets after tax deductions.
Separate property is defined as anything you own before getting married or assets that have been inherited or gifted.
Tennessee Divorce FAQs
While the information above serves as a general guide to divorce in Tennessee, you may have additional questions depending on the specifics of your case. Below is a list of other questions regarding the divorce process.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Tennessee
The resources linked below are available for those who want to learn more about Tennessee divorce proceedings on their own or require assistance prior to filing their case. This section also includes the contact information of legal aid services you can contact if you need more advice regarding the specifics of your case.
Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands
The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands is the state’s largest nonprofit firm that focuses on providing legal services and community education for low-income and vulnerable individuals. LAS takes on cases relating to family law and domestic violence and provides individuals with access to resource booklets and legal help clinics. The organization is composed of 32 attorneys and has eight offices across 48 counties. Private offices and local bar associations also work with LAS through its Volunteer Lawyers Program. Individuals seeking assistance may call 1-800-238-1443 in order to schedule a visit at the nearest LAS office.
Help4TN is one of the programs of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services. This website provides booklets that outline state divorce laws and provide instructions for filling out divorce forms. It also connects users to chatbots that can help them complete forms and construct parenting plans. Help4TN’s blog, written by TALS’s attorneys, discusses topics such as processing divorce papers, modifying child custody orders, and understanding parenting plans. Help4TN is also available in Spanish and Arabic.
Legal Aid of East Tennessee
Legal Aid of East Tennessee has been in operation for over 50 years and assists the elderly, low-income families, and victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Its offices are in Chattanooga, Cleveland, Johnson City, Knoxville, Maryland, and Morristown. For couples going through divorce, LAET provides downloadable resources on filing an Order of Protection and creating a safety plan when domestic violence is involved. It runs four Family Justice Center offices that assist victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human trafficking. Those seeking legal aid can apply online or visit the LAET office nearest them.
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