There are several technical requirements you must meet in order to pursue a divorce in Tennessee. Continue reading to learn more.
Find the answers below to some common questions about filing for divorce in Tennessee. (For more information on Tennessee family law, see the information and resources on our Tennessee page.)
How long do I have to live in Tennessee before I can get divorced?
Generally speaking, you have to reside in Tennessee for at least six months before you can file for divorce in the local courts. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-104 (a).) If you or your spouse are in the military and stationed in Tennessee (but you have a permanent residence in a different state), the court will permit you to file for divorce in Tennessee if you’ve lived in the state for at least one year before filing. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-104 (b).)
If I moved out of the marital home to another state, where do I file?
Most states have residency requirements, which means you must have established a permanent home in the state before you can file for divorce. Residency requirements prevent spouses from “forum” or “judge” shopping by moving to new states that may have more favorable divorce procedures for the spouse. For example, Michigan divorce law requires that the filing spouse reside in the state for at least 6 months and the county for at least 10 days before filing for divorce. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 552.9 (1).)
You must be a resident of Tennessee for six months to file for divorce here. You may file in the county where you or your spouse live, so if your spouse still resides in Tennessee, you can file in the county where your spouse lives, even if you no longer live in the state. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-105 (a).)
If you’re unsure of where you should file for divorce, you should contact a family law attorney before submitting any paperwork.
What if my spouse lives in another state?
Your spouse living in another state may make your case more complicated. An attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons of filing in Tennessee or in the state where your spouse lives. If the court in Tennessee does not have jurisdiction (the power to accept your case), you may be wasting your time and money if you file here.
Why is it more difficult? Divorces take time and, in many situations, court appearances that you will need to attend. Additionally, you’ll need to “serve” divorce papers on your spouse out of state, which can be costly and time-consuming.
How do I serve papers on my spouse?
In all states, including Tennessee, the spouse filing for divorce must provide the other spouse notice of the case, by making sure the spouse receives copies of all of the divorce paperwork. The court may refer to this process as serving papers, which means giving official notice by delivering a copy of the divorce petition to your spouse.
To properly serve your spouse, you can request a sheriff or a process server in your spouse’s home state to deliver the documents. Additionally, you can ask an adult family member or friend to hand-deliver the paperwork if it’s safe to do so. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-103 (a).)
Alternatively, you may send copies by certified mail to your spouse’s residence or, if you don’t know where your spouse is, publish a legal notice in a newspaper selected by the court. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-2-215.)
How much does it cost to serve paperwork?
The cost for service depends on how much the local sheriff or private process server charges, but usually, fees are under $75. Publishing a legal notice can be more expensive, however. Depending on the newspaper, you can spend $100 or more.
In all states, including Tennessee, the spouse filing for divorce must provide the other spouse notice of the case, by making sure the spouse receives copies of all of the divorce paperwork.
Do my spouse and I need lawyers if we agree on everything?
Technically, no. If you agree on all divorce-related issues, such as property division, child support, child custody, and spousal support, you can present a signed settlement agreement to the court. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-103 (b).) But as a practical matter, an experienced family lawyer will still need to draft your agreement to make sure everything is accurate. A divorce is a lawsuit.
Remember, there is no such thing as a standard divorce. There are many things you will need to consider during the divorce that it makes sense to hire a lawyer to explain things and represent only your best interests. Very few lawyers will represent both parties because of the potential for a conflict of interest.
What is a conflict of interest?
A conflict of interest happens when an attorney’s duty to a client is compromised. An attorney who represents both spouses in a divorce might face such a conflict if a benefit to one spouse would be detrimental to the other. If one lawyer represents both spouses, the lawyer cannot advise them in negotiating for better settlement terms.
What are the grounds for divorce in Tennessee?
Tennessee law requires a filing spouse to list a reason or “ground” for the divorce. The law allows divorce on either fault or no-fault grounds. Fault grounds mean that one spouse’s behavior during the marriage caused the breakup.
A fault divorce can be expensive and time-consuming because you have to submit sufficient evidence to prove the misconduct you claim caused the divorce.
The fault grounds for divorce are:
- either spouse, at the time of the marriage, was and still is naturally impotent and incapable of procreation
- either party has knowingly entered into a second marriage, in violation of a previous marriage that has not ended
- either spouse has committed adultery
- either spouse has willfully or maliciously deserted or left the other, without a reasonable cause, for one year
- either spouse has been convicted of a crime which, by the laws of the state, renders the party infamous
- either spouse has committed a felony and been sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary
- either spouse has attempted to take the life of the other, by poison or any other means showing malice
- either spouse has refused to remove with that person’s spouse to this state, without a reasonable cause, and has been willfully absent from the spouse residing in Tennessee for two years
- the wife was pregnant at the time of the marriage, by another person, without the knowledge of the husband
- habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotic drugs by either spouse, when the spouse has contracted such habit after marriage
- either spouse is guilty of such cruel and inhuman treatment or conduct towards the spouse as renders cohabitation unsafe and improper, which may also be referred to in pleadings as inappropriate marital conduct
- either spouse has offered such indignities to the other spouse’s person as to render the other spouse’s condition intolerable, and thereby forced the other spouse to withdraw, or
- either spouse has abandoned the other, or turned the other out of doors, and refused or neglected to provide for the other while having the ability to do so. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-101.)
A no-fault divorce is one alternative to a fault divorce. With a no-fault divorce, the spouses do not blame each other for the breakdown of the marriage. Instead, they simply tell the court they want a divorce based on “irreconcilable differences,” which means they can’t get along anymore and no longer want to be married.
Finally, you can ask the court to grant you a divorce based on separation. In order to qualify for this, you must be able to show that you have been living in separate residences, and not cohabiting as spouses, for at least two years (this ground applies only if the couple has no children).
How long does a divorce take?
A mutual-consent, no-fault divorce takes about two to six months. If there are no children in the marriage, there is a mandatory 60-day “cooling-off” period after the spouse files the complaint. If the couple has children, it takes a minimum of 90 days. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-101 (b).)
A contested divorce can last years, with the average case lasting a year or more. Finally, if the spouses agree to divide a pension, it might take an additional 60 to 180 days after the court grants the divorce to complete the division.
Can I get an annulment?
Rarely. Annulments may be available if the marriage was illegal (for example, incestuous) or based on fraud or duress. The court will also approve an annulment if one party was underage at the time of the wedding. The rules and applications for annulment can be complex, so it’s best to speak with an attorney to discuss your options.
An annulment is similar to a traditional divorce because both processes end the marriage. However, after an annulment, the court treats the couple as though they were never married.
Despite an annulment effectively erasing the marriage, the effect of annulment will not render the couple’s children illegitimate. In other words, if you had children during a marriage that the court later annuls, the law treats the children the same as if you and your spouse were legally married and divorce. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-125.) It’s also important to understand that if you request an annulment, the court will not award alimony to either spouse.
What is a legal separation?
In effect, a legal separation allows the court to award one (or both) spouses financial support and maintenance without an actual divorce. The legal separation process is similar to traditional divorce, so it can be as time-consuming and expensive as a divorce, but in the end, you’re still married.
Separation can be an appropriate way to end your partnership if religious or other reasons require you to stay legally married. However, at the end of a legal separation process, you and your spouse will remain legally married, so the law prohibits you from marrying someone else until you complete a traditional divorce. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-102.)
Do I have a right to a jury trial in my divorce case?
No. If the case goes to trial, the judge will make the final determinations.
What about mediation?
Mediation is a confidential, out-of-court method for spouses to settle the divorce without asking a judge for help. A mediator is a trained, neutral third-party who will facilitate a conversation between the spouses to settle any divorce-related issues. Mediation is most beneficial with custody and visitation issues because the spouses will have to maintain an ongoing constructive relationship to parent their children successfully.
Mediators usually recommend that the parties review any potential settlement with independent counsel before signing. Mediation works best when the parties come to the table in good faith and fully disclose their assets and debts. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-130.)
Can I change my last name at the time of divorce?
Yes. The only limitation is that a person cannot change names to perpetrate a fraud. It’s common for divorcing spouses to change from their married last name to the name they used when they were single.
If you have additional questions on filing for a divorce in Tennessee, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney. Additionally, you can find approved divorce court forms on the Tennessee State Court Website.