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How to File for Divorce in Tennessee

Tennessee couple signing decree papers.

Getting a divorce in Tennessee can be complicated, especially if you have children and assets like a house or a retirement account. This article will walk you through the requirements and steps of filing for divorce in Tennessee. It will also discuss divorce costs and whether you need a lawyer to file for divorce in Tennessee.

Tennessee's No-Fault Divorce Options

Tennessee is unique from a lot of states in that it is not purely a no-fault divorce state. Marital fault such as adultery, substance abuse, and neglect can all be taken into account in a Tennessee divorce. However, the state does have two no-fault based divorce options:

  1. Irreconcilable differences; and
  2. Two years of separation with no minor children.

The irreconcilable differences grounds for divorce require that the spouses agree, as documented in the pleadings, that there are irremediable marital problems justifying the divorce. No further proof is necessary as long as the spouses both agree.

The two years of separation with no minor children grounds require that the spouses have lived in separate residences for a least two years and they have no minor children.

Tennessee's Fault-Based Divorce Options

If both spouses do not agree to the divorce, then the divorce is contested and the spouse seeking the divorce must prove fault. The fault-based grounds for divorce in Tennessee are:

  • Impotence and sterility;
  • Bigamy;
  • Adultery;
  • Willful or malicious desertion for a year without a reasonable cause;
  • Conviction of a crime that results in infamy;
  • Conviction of a felony;
  • Attempted murder;
  • Refusal of a spouse to move to Tennessee resulting in living apart for two years;
  • Wife was pregnant by a man other than husband at time of marriage without husband's knowledge;
  • Habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotic drugs (when the habit began after marriage);
  • Cruel and inhuman treatment or conduct, also known as inappropriate marital conduct;
  • Indignities to a spouse's person; and
  • Abandonment or refusal/neglecting to provide for spouse.

It can be difficult to get a divorce in Tennessee if the other spouse does not want the divorce. The spouse seeking the divorce must gather evidence proving fault such as eyewitness testimony, audio or video recordings, or financial documents.

Requirements for a Divorce in Tennessee

You must meet certain requirements before you can be granted a divorce in Tennessee:

  • Your divorce must be based on proper fault or no-fault based grounds, as described above; and
  • At least one spouse must have lived in Tennessee for at least six months prior to filing.

After these requirements have been met, you can file for divorce immediately.

Do You Have to Be Separated Before Filing for Divorce in Tennessee?

There is no requirement that you have to be separated from your spouse before you file for divorce in Tennessee unless you use the "two years separation with no minor children" grounds for divorce.

How to File for Divorce in Tennessee

The steps you will take when filing for divorce in Tennessee depend on whether you are filing a contested or an uncontested (agreed) divorce.

In an agreed divorce, or an uncontested divorce, spouses agree on everything from the beginning. You do not have to prove fault or go through a trial. You and your spouse complete and file all divorce forms at the same time. For example, you would complete and file the Divorce Complaint, Marital Dissolution Agreement, and Agreed Permanent Parenting Plan (if you have children under 18) at the same time.

In a contested divorce, a lengthier process takes place to start the divorce, notify the other spouse of the divorce, and work out the issues that need to be resolved (or go to trial).

Here are the steps to take for a contested divorce:

1) Complete the Divorce Complaint

The first step in filing for divorce in Tennessee is completing the Complaint for Divorce form. This is the pleading that kicks off the divorce process and lets the court know what you are asking it to do such as dissolve the marriage, divide the marital property, and order child custody and support.

When completing the Complaint for Divorce, you should be prepared to provide information about:

  • The date and location of your marriage
  • The date of your separation
  • The fault and/or no-fault based grounds for divorce
  • Your minor children
  • Your assets and debts
  • Your income and budget needs

Once you have completed the Complaint for Divorce, review the information to make sure that everything is accurate and filled out completely. Then you will need to sign the complaint in front of a notary. Finally, make at least two copies of the signed Complaint.

2) File the Forms

Next, take the Complaint for Divorce original and copies to the Clerk of Court in your county for filing. Alternatively, you could file for divorce in the county where your spouse lives, or the county that you lived in when you separated. This is what officially starts the divorce.

You will be asked to pay a filing fee (if you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you can file a Request to Postpone Filing Fees and Order). Then, the Clerk of Court will assign a case number to your file and issue a Summons.

Both the Complaint and the Summons must now be served on your spouse.

3) Serve Your Spouse

You have the option to get a process server or Sheriff's Deputy to serve the Complaint and Summons on your spouse. Tennessee now also allows for service by mail, but your spouse (or their attorney) would have to be willing to sign a Waiver of Service of Process to acknowledge that they received it.

After the Complaint and Summons have been served, your spouse has 30 days to file an Answer and Counter-Complaint. (Your spouse has longer to respond if they are in the military on active duty or deployed.) The Answer and Counter-Complaint give your spouse the opportunity to accept or deny what you have alleged, and to ask the court for what they want.

4) Settlement or Discovery

The next step in many divorce cases is settlement negotiations. These might take place between just the spouses, between the spouses and their lawyers, or with the help of a mediator or another third-party neutral.

Sometimes, discovery takes place before or during settlement negotiations. Other times, it doesn't take place until after settlement negotiations fail.

Discovery refers to the process of exchanging and gathering information that is pertinent to the case. This can include written requests for information, requests for production of documents, and requests for admissions. All discovery requests must be answered within 30 days. However, in many cases, the spouses agree to exchange discovery documents informally without using the formal legal process.

The purpose of discovery is to gather information about assets, income, fault allegations (if any), debt, budgets, and other relevant information. It is used during the settlement negotiations and could be used by the court to decide issues such as:

  • Grounds for divorce
  • Property division
  • Child custody and support
  • Alimony

5) Attend Parenting Class

Divorcing parents in Tennessee are required to take a four-hour parenting education seminar before their divorce will be granted. These classes are aimed at helping parents learn how to co-parent and support their children after the divorce process. The goal is to reduce divorce-caused stress on the parents and their children.

Classes are available through different providers, which charge different fees. Some providers offer sliding fees based on income. The costs can also be waived if parents qualify.

5) Continued Settlement Efforts or Divorce Trial

Most Tennessee divorce cases are able to reach out-of-court settlement, often through mediation. Mediation is much more cost-effective than going to trial and allows the spouses to stay in control of the outcome of their case.

Unfortunately, some cases are not able to settle through mediation and a court trial is necessary. This can be a very expensive and time-consuming process. There are many pretrial steps that have to take place, and evidence has to be prepared. At the trial, the judge listens to evidence and prepares to rule on the contested issues of the case, which could include property division, child custody, child support, or alimony.

Once the judge issues a ruling, the spouses have 30 days to appeal the decision.

How Much Does It Cost to File for Divorce in Tennessee?

The cost of divorce can really add up. Filing fees in Tennessee range between $200 and $400, depending on the county. Each county lists its filing fees on its website. Other related costs include service fees (usually around $75), copy fees, and mediation fees.

If you cannot afford to pay, you can file a Request to Postpone Filing Fees and Order. If your request is approved, you could still end up having to pay the filing fees at the end of your divorce.

Attorney's fees are another factor you need to consider if you are represented by a divorce attorney. The amount divorce lawyers charge depends on how much experience they have and where they are located. (Divorce lawyers in large cities tend to charge more than outstate lawyers.)

Do You Need an Attorney to File for Divorce in Tennessee?

You are not required to have an attorney to file for divorce in Tennessee, though it is recommended that you at least meet with an attorney before your divorce so that any potential issues can be addressed.

It is also a good idea to have a family law attorney review your divorce agreement to make sure that you are getting what you are entitled to. You certainly want a lawyer's help if you have significant assets or your spouse is working with a lawyer.

How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced in Tennessee?

The time it takes to divorce depends on a variety of factors. In Tennessee, an agreed divorce, or an uncontested divorce, is the quickest way to end your marriage.

Even when the spouses agree on everything, Tennessee law still requires what is often called a “cooling off period," which requires divorces without minor children to be on file for at least 60 days, and divorces with minor children to be on file for at least 90 days before being finalized. There is no exception to this law.

That means the quickest an agreed divorce can be granted is 61 days after it was filed. However, the actual time it takes also depends on the court's availability.

A contested divorce can take much longer, depending on how many issues there are to figure out. The average contested divorce takes about a year to resolve from start to finish.

How to File for Legal Separation in Tennessee

Divorce isn't the only option for people facing marital problems in Tennessee. Some couples choose to legally separate instead of filing for divorce for a variety of reasons ranging from financial to religious.

The process for filing for legal separation in Tennessee is just like the process for filing for divorce — the spouses are just asking the court for a different marital "status." Even the no-fault and fault-based grounds for legal separation are the same as they are for divorce.

Legal separation gives people the ability to have issues like property division, child custody and support, alimony, and other divorce issues figured out and legally enforced without having to officially end their marriage.

However, one big difference is that spouses who are legally separated cannot legally marry anyone else. Additionally, they can decide to end their separation and resume being married, unlike with divorce.

Additional Resources

How to Find a Divorce Attorney in Tennessee

Filing for divorce is one of the most stressful and important experiences you will go through in life. A divorce lawyer can help guide you through the process and protect your rights. Attorney directories can help you find local divorce lawyers to meet with. Many provide a free initial consultation over the phone or in person. Find a lawyer near you:

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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