Tennessee General Divorce and Family Law Statutes
Selected Tennessee General Divorce and Family Law Statutes
Updated as of Dec. 19, 2014. The Tennessee Legislature amends and enacts new family laws every year. Always check for the most updated law.
36-3-701. Tort action abolished.
The common law tort action of alienation of affections is hereby abolished.
36-4-101. Grounds for divorce from bonds of matrimony.
(a) The following are causes of divorce from the bonds of matrimony:
(1) Either party, at the time of the contract, was and still is naturally impotent and incapable of procreation;
(2) Either party has knowingly entered into a second marriage, in violation of a previous marriage, still subsisting;
(3) Either party has committed adultery;
(4) Willful or malicious desertion or absence of either party, without a reasonable cause, for one (1) whole year;
(5) Being convicted of any crime that, by the laws of the state, renders the party infamous;
(6) Being convicted of a crime that, by the laws of the state, is declared to be a felony, and sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary;
(7) Either party has attempted the life of the other, by poison or any other means showing malice;
(8) Refusal, on the part of a spouse, to remove with that person’s spouse to this state, without a reasonable cause, and being willfully absent from the spouse residing in Tennessee for two (2) years;
(9) The woman was pregnant at the time of the marriage, by another person, without the knowledge of the husband;
(10) Habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotic drugs of either party, when the spouse has contracted either such habit after marriage;
(11) The husband or wife 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;
(12) The husband or wife has offered such indignities to the spouse’s person as to render the spouse’s position intolerable, and thereby forced the spouse to withdraw;
(13) The husband or wife has abandoned the spouse or turned the spouse out of doors for no just cause, and has refused or neglected to provide for the spouse while having the ability to so provide;
(14) Irreconcilable differences between the parties; and
(15) For a continuous period of two (2) or more years that commenced prior to or after April 18, 1985, both parties have lived in separate residences, have not cohabited as man and wife during such period, and there are no minor children of the parties.
(b) A complaint or petition for divorce on any ground for divorce listed in this section must have been on file for sixty (60) days before being heard if the parties have no unmarried child under eighteen (18) years of age, and must have been on file at least ninety (90) days before being heard if the parties have an unmarried child under eighteen (18) years of age. The sixty-day or ninety-day period shall commence on the date the complaint or petition is filed.
36-4-102. Legal separation.
(a) A party who alleges grounds for divorce from the bonds of matrimony may, as an alternative to filing a complaint for divorce, file a complaint for legal separation. Such complaint shall set forth the grounds for legal separation in substantially the language of § 36-4-101 and pray only for legal separation or for such other and further relief to which complainant may think to be entitled. The other party may deny the existence of grounds for divorce but, unless the other party specifically objects to the granting of an order of legal separation, the court shall declare the parties to be legally separated.
(b) If the other party specifically objects to legal separation, the court may, after a hearing, grant an order of legal separation, notwithstanding such objections if grounds are established pursuant to § 36-4-101. The court also has the power to grant an absolute divorce to either party where there has been an order of legal separation for more than two (2) years upon a petition being filed by either party that sets forth the original order for legal separation and that the parties have not become reconciled. The court granting the divorce shall make a final and complete adjudication of the support and property rights of the parties. However, nothing in this subsection (b) shall preclude the court from granting an absolute divorce before the two-year period has expired.
(c) Legal separation shall not affect the bonds of matrimony but shall permit the parties to cease matrimonial cohabitation. The court may provide for matters such as child custody, visitation, support and property issues during legal separation upon motion by either party or by agreement of the parties.
(d) Notwithstanding this section, a party who can establish grounds for divorce from the bonds of matrimony pursuant to § 36-4-101 shall be entitled to an absolute divorce pursuant to this chapter.
36-4-103. Irreconcilable differences — Procedure.
(a) (1) In all divorces sought because of irreconcilable differences between the parties, if the defendant is a nonresident, personal service may be effectuated by service upon the secretary of state pursuant to § 20-2-215.
(2) In lieu of service of process, the defendant may enter into a written notarized marital dissolution agreement with plaintiff that makes specific reference to a pending divorce by a court and docket number, or states that the defendant is aware that one will be filed in this state and that the defendant waives further service and waives filing an answer to the complaint. Such waiver of service shall be valid for a period of one hundred eighty (180) days from the date the last party signs the agreement. The agreement may include the obligation and payment of alimony, in solido or in futuro, to either of the parties, any other law notwithstanding. The signing of such an agreement shall be in lieu of service of process for the period such waiver is valid and shall constitute a general appearance before the court and answer that shall give the court personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and constitute a default judgment for the purpose of granting a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.
(3) No divorce heretofore granted shall be invalid because the agreement was signed and notarized or acknowledged prior to filing under prior law before the action was filed.
(b) No divorce shall be granted on the ground of irreconcilable differences unless the court affirmatively finds in its decree that the parties have made adequate and sufficient provision by written agreement for the custody and maintenance of any children of that marriage and for the equitable settlement of any property rights between the parties. If the court does not affirmatively find that the agreement is sufficient or equitable, the cause shall be continued by the court to allow further disposition by the petitioner. If both parties are present at the hearing, they may, at that time, ratify any amendments the court may have to the agreement. The amended agreement shall then become a part of the decree. The agreement shall be incorporated in the decree or incorporated by reference, and such decree may be modified as other decrees for divorce.
(c) (1) Bills for divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences must have been on file for sixty (60) days before being heard if the parties have no unmarried child under eighteen (18) years of age, and must have been on file at least ninety (90) days before being heard if the parties have an unmarried child under eighteen (18) years of age. The sixty-day or ninety-day period bills for divorce that must be on file shall commence on the date the original bill was filed and not on the date the bill was amended to include the ground of irreconcilable differences.
(2) A divorce decree or order issued prior to March 22, 1996, in which the hearing for such divorce occurred before the specified time periods required by this subsection (c), shall remain valid and the parties shall remain divorced. Likewise, all other issues resolved in the divorce decree, order or agreement, such as distribution of marital property, alimony, child support and custody, shall remain valid and in full force and effect.
(d) (1) A bill of complaint for divorce where the respondent has been personally served or acknowledged as set out in subsection (a), which includes the ground of irreconcilable differences, may be taken as confessed and a final decree entered thereon, as in other cases and without corroborative proof or testimony, §§ 36-4-107 and 36-4-114 to the contrary notwithstanding.
(2) For purposes of this section, “without corroborative proof or testimony” means that the petitioner shall not be required to testify as to the material facts constituting irreconcilable differences or any attempts to reconcile such differences.
(e) If there has been a contest or denial of the grounds of irreconcilable differences, no divorce shall be granted on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. However, a divorce may be granted on the grounds of irreconcilable differences where there has been a contest or denial, if a properly executed marital dissolution agreement is presented to the court.
(f) Irreconcilable differences may be asserted as a sole ground for divorce or as an alternate ground for divorce with any other cause for divorce set out in § 36-4-101 or § 36-4-102.
(g) Notwithstanding any law to the contrary requiring mediation, the filing with the court of a properly executed marital dissolution agreement and, if there are minor children of the marriage, a properly executed parenting plan shall serve to remove any requirement that the parties shall attend mediation. If the court does not approve either the marital dissolution agreement or the parenting plan, then any requirement to attend mediation shall be reinstated as of the date of the court’s rejection of either agreement.
36-4-104. Residence requirements.
(a) A divorce may be granted for any of the causes referenced in § 36-4-101 if the acts complained of were committed while the plaintiff was a bona fide resident of this state or if the acts complained of were committed out of this state and the plaintiff resided out of the state at the time, if the plaintiff or the defendant has resided in this state six (6) months next preceding the filing of the complaint.
(b) For the purposes of this section, any person in the armed services of the United States, or the spouse of any such person, who has been living in this state for a period of not less than one (1) year shall be presumed to be a resident of this state, and the presumption of residence shall be overcome only by clear and convincing evidence of a domicile elsewhere.
(a) The bill or petition may be filed in the proper name of the complainant, in the chancery or circuit court or other court having divorce jurisdiction, in the county where the parties reside at the time of their separation, or in which the defendant resides, if a resident of the state; but if the defendant is a nonresident of the state or a convict, then in the county where the applicant resides.
(b) Any divorce granted prior to May 4, 1967, will not be deemed void solely on the ground that the parties to the divorce action were residents of a county or counties other than the county in which the divorce decree was entered.
36-4-106. Contents of petition for divorce and legal separation.
(a) (1) The complaint for divorce shall set forth the grounds for the divorce in substantially the language of § 36-4-101 or § 36-4-102, and pray only for a divorce from the defendant, or for a divorce and such other and further relief to which the complainant may think to be entitled. In cases wherein an answer is filed, the court shall, on motion of the defendant, require the complainant to file a bill of particulars, setting forth the facts relied on as grounds for the divorce, with reasonable certainty as to time and place.
(2) The complaint for legal separation shall set forth the grounds for legal separation in substantially the language of § 36-4-101, and pray for such further relief to which the complainant is entitled. In all cases where an answer is filed, the court shall, on motion of the defendant, require the complainant to file a bill of particulars, stating the facts relied on as a ground for legal separation, with reasonable certainty as to time and place.
(b) (1) The complainant shall also allege the full name of the husband, the full maiden name of the wife, their mailing addresses, dates and places of their birth, race or color of each spouse, number of previous marriages of each spouse, date and place of the marriage of the parties, the number of their children who are minors at the time of the filing of the complaint, and any other litigation concerning the custody of those children in this or any other state in which either party has participated, as specified in § 36-6-224. Further, at the time a complaint or pleading is filed under this part, the filing party shall, simultaneously with the initial complaint or pleading filed by that party, file with the clerk a separate document that contains the full names and social security numbers, current mailing addresses and dates of birth of the husband, the wife, and those of all children born of the marriage. The filing party shall provide to the clerk one (1) eight and one-half inch by eleven inch (81/2” x 11”) envelope labeled with the names of the parties, which shall be marked with the docket number. The clerk shall file stamp the document and the envelope, store the document in the envelope, which shall be sealed, and place the sealed envelope in the case file. The social security numbers and other information filed with the clerk shall be available to the clerk of court for processing of documents and legal actions such as, but not limited to, divorce certificates, garnishments, and income assignments. On request, the sealed information shall be made available to the department of human services and any other agency required by law to have access to the information, and to other persons or agencies as ordered by the court. It shall be mandatory that every complaint filed under this chapter shall contain the foregoing information or that such information is provided by the parties and is contained in the court’s records as described above prior to the entry of the final decree of divorce, unless it can be shown to the satisfaction of the court that such information could not be obtained by the complainant or petitioner by exercising due diligence or after the court has granted a reasonable time to amend the complaint. In lieu of a mailing address, either party may designate an agent for the service of process throughout the proceedings and, except as provided in subdivision (b)(2), the name and address of such agent shall be the only address used for the designating party in all petitions, pleadings, motions and orders relating to such divorce action.
(2) If the complainant or the defendant shows to the satisfaction of the court in which the petition is filed that the residential address of the other party is relevant and necessary in order to prove the allegations contained in the complaint or to ascertain information necessary to determine value and/or ownership of property, or to ascertain other data necessary to evaluate and agree upon a property division or custody or defend against such allegations, the court may order either party to reveal such residential address to the other party.
(3) If the complainant elects to designate an agent for service of process in lieu of the mailing address as authorized by this subsection (b) but does not designate a specific person, the complainant’s attorney shall be deemed the complainant’s agent for service of process.
(c) Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, the plaintiff or other party shall not be required in those counties having a divorce proctor to file an affidavit swearing that the defendant is not in the military service where:
(1) The complaint states facts that would make the defendant ineligible for military service; or
(2) The residence address of the defendant is set forth in the complaint, and:
(A) The defendant has been personally served with service of process, or has been mailed a copy of the complaint by a divorce proctor;
(B) The defendant has actual notice of the commencement of the suit;
(C) Proof of mailing to the defendant of notice of the suit is exhibited to the court; or
(D) The defendant is represented by an attorney.
(d) Upon the filing of a petition for divorce or legal separation, and upon personal service of the complaint and summons on the respondent or upon waiver and acceptance of service by the respondent, the following temporary injunctions shall be in effect against both parties until the final decree of divorce or order of legal separation is entered, the petition is dismissed, the parties reach agreement, or until the court modifies or dissolves the injunction, written notice of which shall be served with the complaint:
(1) (A) An injunction restraining and enjoining both parties from transferring, assigning, borrowing against, concealing or in any way dissipating or disposing, without the consent of the other party or an order of the court, of any marital property. Nothing herein is intended to preclude either of the parties from seeking broader injunctive relief from the court.
(B) Expenditures from current income to maintain the marital standard of living and the usual and ordinary costs of operating a business are not restricted by this injunction. Each party shall maintain records of all expenditures, copies of which shall be available to the other party upon request.
(2) An injunction restraining and enjoining both parties from voluntarily canceling, modifying, terminating, assigning, or allowing to lapse for nonpayment of premiums, any insurance policy, including, but not limited to, life, health, disability, homeowners, renters, and automobile, where such insurance policy provides coverage to either of the parties or the children, or that names either of the parties or the children as beneficiaries without the consent of the other party or an order of the court. “Modifying” includes any change in beneficiary status.
(3) An injunction restraining both parties from harassing, threatening, assaulting or abusing the other and from making disparaging remarks about the other to or in the presence of any children of the parties or to either party’s employer.
(4) An injunction restraining and enjoining both parties from hiding, destroying or spoiling, in whole or in part, any evidence electronically stored or on computer hard drives or other memory storage devices.
(5) An injunction restraining both parties from relocating any children of the parties outside the state of Tennessee, or more than fifty (50) miles from the marital home, without the permission of the other party or an order of the court, except in the case of a removal based upon a well-founded fear of physical abuse against either the fleeing parent or the child. In such cases, upon request of the nonrelocating parent, the court will conduct an expedited hearing, by telephone conference if appropriate, to determine the reasonableness of the relocation and to make such other orders as appropriate.
(6) The provisions of these injunctions shall be attached to the summons and the complaint and shall be served with the complaint. The injunctions shall become an order of the court upon fulfillment of the requirements of this subsection (d). However, nothing in this subsection (d) shall preclude either party from applying to the court for further temporary orders, an expanded temporary injunction, or modification or revocation of this temporary injunction.
(7) The temporary injunctions provided in this section shall only apply to the spousal parties named in the petition and shall not apply to any third party named in the petition; provided, however, that nothing in this subsection (d) shall preclude any party from applying to the court for an order of injunctive or extraordinary relief against any other party named in any petition as provided by law or rule.
36-4-112. Defense when ground is adultery.
If the cause assigned for the divorce is adultery, it is a good defense and perpetual bar to the same if the defendant alleges and proves that:
(1) The complainant has been guilty of like act or crime;
(2) The complainant has admitted the defendant into conjugal society and embraces after knowledge of the criminal act;
(3) The complainant, if the husband, allowed the wife’s prostitutions and received hire for them; or
(4) The husband exposed the wife to lewd company, whereby the wife became ensnared to the act or crime of adultery.
36-4-119. Decree of court generally.
If, upon hearing the cause, the court is satisfied that the complainant is entitled to relief, it may be granted either by pronouncing the marriage void from the beginning, or by dissolving it forever and freeing each party from the obligations thereof, or by a separation for a limited time.
36-4-128. Remarriage after spouse’s two-year absence — Effect of spouse’s return.
(a) If, upon a false rumor, apparently well founded, of the death of one (1) of the parties, who has been absent two (2) whole years, the other party marries again, the party remaining single may, upon returning, insist upon a restoration of conjugal rights or upon a dissolution of the marriage, and the court shall decree accordingly, to wit: that the first marriage shall stand and the second be dissolved, or vice versa.
(b) Such bill or petition shall be filed within one (1) year after the return.
36-4-129. Stipulated grounds and/or defenses — Grant of divorce.
(a) In all actions for divorce from the bonds of matrimony or legal separation the parties may stipulate as to grounds and/or defenses.
(b) The court may, upon stipulation to or proof of any ground of divorce pursuant to § 36-4-101, grant a divorce to the party who was less at fault or, if either or both parties are entitled to a divorce or if a divorce is to be granted on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, declare the parties to be divorced, rather than awarding a divorce to either party alone.
36-4-131. Mediation — Waiver or extension — Domestic abuse.
(a) Except as provided in subsections (b), (c) and (d), in any proceeding for divorce or separate maintenance, the court shall order the parties to participate in mediation.
(b) The court may waive or extend mediation pursuant to subsection (a) for reasons including, but not limited to:
(1) Any factor codified in § 36-6-409(4);
(2) Either party is unable to afford the cost of the mediation, unless the cost is waived or subsidized by the state or if the cost of mediation would be an unreasonable burden on either or both of the parties;
(3) The parties have entered into a written marital dissolution agreement or an agreed order resolving all of the pending issues in the divorce, except as provided in subsection (c);
(4) The parties have participated in a settlement conference presided over by the court or a special master;
(5) The court finds a substantial likelihood that mediation will result in an impasse; or
(6) For other cause found sufficient by the court.
(c) If the ground for the divorce is irreconcilable differences and the parties have filed with the court a properly executed marital dissolution agreement, and if there are minor children of the marriage, a properly executed parenting plan, the court shall not require the parties to attend mediation.
(d) (1) In any proceeding for divorce or separate support and maintenance, if an order of protection issued in or recognized by this state is in effect or there is a court finding of domestic abuse or any criminal conviction involving domestic abuse within the marriage that is the subject of the proceeding for divorce or separate support and maintenance, the court may order mediation or refer either party to mediation, only if:
(A) Mediation is agreed to by the victim of the alleged domestic or family violence;
(B) Mediation is provided by a certified mediator who is trained in domestic and family violence in a specialized manner that protects the safety of the victim; and
(C) The victim is permitted to have in attendance at mediation a supporting person of the victim’s choice, including, but not limited to, an attorney or advocate. No victim may provide monetary compensation to a non-attorney advocate for attendance at mediation.
(2) Mediation conducted pursuant to subdivision (b)(1) shall be concluded and a report provided to the court no later than one hundred eighty (180) days from the date the complaint for divorce was filed.
36-4-135. False allegations of sexual abuse in furtherance of litigation.
Whenever a trial court finds that any person knowingly made a false allegation of sexual abuse in furtherance of litigation, in addition to any other penalties provided for by law or rule, the court may hold the accuser in contempt of court and may order the accuser to pay all litigation expenses, including, but not limited to, the reasonable attorney’s fees, discretionary costs and other costs incurred by the wrongly accused party in defending against the false allegation.
After making an award of custody, the court shall, upon request of the non-custodial parent, grant such rights of visitation as will enable the child and the non-custodial parent to maintain a parent-child relationship unless the court finds, after a hearing, that visitation is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health. In granting any such rights of visitation, the court shall designate in which parent’s home each minor child shall reside on given days of the year, including provisions for holidays, birthdays of family members, vacations and other special occasions. If the court finds that the non-custodial parent has physically or emotionally abused the child, the court may require that visitation be supervised or prohibited until such abuse has ceased or until there is no reasonable likelihood that such abuse will recur. The court may not order the department of children’s services to provide supervision of visitation pursuant to this section except in cases where the department is the petitioner or intervening petitioner in a case in which the custody or guardianship of a child is at issue.
36-6-302. Grandparents’ visitation rights.
(a) (1) (A) If a child is removed from the custody of the child’s parents, guardian or legal custodian; and
(B) If a child is placed in a licensed foster home, a facility operated by a licensed child care agency, or other home or facility designated or operated by the court, whether such placement is by court order, voluntary placement agreement, surrender of parental rights, or otherwise;
(2) Then, the grandparents of such child may be granted reasonable visitation rights to the child during such child’s minority by the court of competent jurisdiction upon a finding that:
(A) Such visitation rights would be in the best interest of the minor child;
(B) The grandparents would adequately protect the child from further abuse or intimidation by the perpetrator or any other family member;
(C) The grandparents were not implicated in the commission of any alleged act against such child or of their own children that under the law in effect prior to November 1, 1989, would constitute the criminal offense of:
(i) Aggravated rape under § 39-2-603 [repealed];
(ii) Rape under § 39-2-604 [repealed];
(iii) Aggravated sexual battery under § 39-2-606 [repealed];
(iv) Sexual battery under § 39-2-607 [repealed];
(v) Assault with intent to commit rape or attempt to commit rape or sexual battery under § 39-2-608 [repealed];
(vi) Crimes against nature under § 39-2-612 [repealed];
(vii) Incest under § 39-4-306 [repealed];
(viii) Begetting child on wife’s sister under § 39-4-307 [repealed];
(ix) Use of minor of obscene purposes under § 39-6-1137 [repealed]; or
(x) Promotion of performance including sexual conduct by minor under § 39-6-1138 [repealed]; and
(D) The grandparents are not implicated in the commission of any alleged act against such child or of their own children that under the law in effect on or after November 1, 1989, would constitute the criminal offense of:
(i) Aggravated rape under § 39-13-502;
(ii) Rape under § 39-13-503;
(iii) Aggravated sexual battery under § 39-13-504;
(iv) Sexual battery under § 39-13-505;
(v) Criminal attempt for any of the offenses in subdivisions (a)(2)(D)(i)-(a)(2)(D)(iv) as provided in § 39-12-101;
(vi) Incest under § 39-15-302;
(vii) Sexual exploitation of a minor under § 39-17-1003;
(viii) Aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor under § 39-17-1004; or
(ix) Especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor under § 39-17-1005.
(b) This section shall not apply in any case in which the child has been adopted by any person other than a stepparent or other relative of the child.
36-6-303. Visitation rights of stepparents.
(a) In a suit for annulment, divorce or separate maintenance where one (1) party is a stepparent to a minor child born to the other party, such stepparent may be granted reasonable visitation rights to such child during the child’s minority by the court of competent jurisdiction upon a finding that such visitation rights would be in the best interests of the minor child and that such stepparent is actually providing or contributing towards the support of such child.
(b) Such decree shall remain within the control of the court and be subject to such changes or modification as the exigencies of the case require.
36-6-307. Determination of best interests of child for grandparent visitations.
In determining the best interests of the child under § 36-6-306, the court shall consider all pertinent matters, including, but not necessarily limited to, the following:
(1) The length and quality of the prior relationship between the child and the grandparent and the role performed by the grandparent;
(2) The existing emotional ties of the child to the grandparent;
(3) The preference of the child if the child is determined to be of sufficient maturity to express a preference;
(4) The effect of hostility between the grandparent and the parent of the child manifested before the child, and the willingness of the grandparent, except in case of abuse, to encourage a close relationship between the child and the parent or parents, or guardian or guardians of the child;
(5) The good faith of the grandparent in filing the petition;
(6) If the parents are divorced or separated, the time-sharing arrangement that exists between the parents with respect to the child;
(7) If one (1) parent is deceased or missing, the fact that the grandparents requesting visitation are the parents of the deceased or missing person;
(8) Any unreasonable deprivation of the grandparent’s opportunity to visit with the child by the child’s parents or guardian, including denying visitation of the minor child to the grandparent for a period exceeding ninety (90) days;
(9) Whether the grandparent is seeking to maintain a significant existing relationship with the child;
(10) Whether awarding grandparent visitation would interfere with the parent-child relationship; and
(11) Any court finding that the child’s parent or guardian is unfit.
(a) Parents have the responsibility to make decisions and perform other parental duties necessary for the care and growth of their minor children. In any proceeding between parents under this chapter, the best interests of the child shall be the standard by which the court determines and allocates the parties’ parental responsibilities. The general assembly recognizes the detrimental effect of divorce on many children and that divorce, by its nature, means that neither parent will have the same access to the child as would have been possible had they been able to maintain an intact family. The general assembly finds the need for stability and consistency in children’s lives. The general assembly also has an interest in educating parents concerning the impact of divorce on children. The general assembly recognizes the fundamental importance of the parent-child relationship to the welfare of the child, and the relationship between the child and each parent should be fostered unless inconsistent with the child’s best interests. The best interests of the child are served by a parenting arrangement that best maintains a child’s emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care.
(b) The general assembly finds that mothers and fathers in families are the backbone of this state and this nation. They teach children right from wrong, respect for others, and the value of working hard to make a good life for themselves and for their future families. Most children do best when they receive the emotional and financial support of both parents. The general assembly finds that a different approach to dispute resolution in child custody and visitation matters is useful.
36-6-402. Part definitions.
As used in this part, unless the context requires otherwise:
(1) “Dispute resolution” means the mediation process or alternative dispute resolution process in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 unless the parties agree otherwise. For the purposes of this part, such process may include: mediation, the neutral party to be chosen by the parties or the court; arbitration, the neutral party to be chosen by the parties or the court; or a mandatory settlement conference presided over by the court or a special master.
(2) “Parenting responsibilities” means those aspects of the parent-child relationship in which the parent makes decisions and performs duties necessary for the care and growth of the child. “Parenting responsibilities,” the establishment of which is the objective of a permanent parenting plan, include:
(A) Providing for the child’s emotional care and stability, including maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child and supervising the child to encourage and protect emotional, intellectual, moral, and spiritual development;
(B) Providing for the child’s physical care, including attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care, and grooming, supervision, health care, and day care, and engaging in other activities that are appropriate to the developmental level of the child and that are within the social and economic circumstances of the particular family;
(C) Providing encouragement and protection of the child’s intellectual and moral development, including attending to adequate education for the child, including remedial or other education essential to the best interests of the child;
(D) Assisting the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
(E) Exercising appropriate judgment regarding the child’s welfare, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances; and
(F) Providing any financial security and support of the child in addition to child support obligations;
(3) “Permanent parenting plan” means a written plan for the parenting and best interests of the child, including the allocation of parenting responsibilities and the establishment of a residential schedule, as well as an award of child support consistent with chapter 5 of this title;
(4) “Primary residential parent” means the parent with whom the child resides more than fifty percent (50%) of the time;
(5) “Residential schedule” is the schedule of when the child is in each parent’s physical care, and it shall designate the primary residential parent; in addition, the residential schedule shall designate in which parent’s home each minor child shall reside on given days of the year, including provisions for holidays, birthdays of family members, vacations, and other special occasions, consistent with the criteria of this part; provided, that nothing contained herein shall be construed to modify any provision of § 36-6-108; and
(6) “Temporary parenting plan” means a plan for the temporary parenting and the best interests of the child, including the establishment of a temporary residential schedule, and the establishment of temporary financial support designed to maintain the financial status quo to the extent possible, consistent with chapter 5 of this title, and the guidelines thereunder.
36-6-404. Requirement of and procedure for determining permanent parenting plan.
(a) Any final decree or decree of modification in an action for absolute divorce, legal separation, annulment, or separate maintenance involving a minor child shall incorporate a permanent parenting plan; provided, however, that this part shall be inapplicable to parties who were divorced prior to July 1, 1997, and thereafter return to court to enter an agreed order modifying terms of the previous court order. A permanent parenting plan shall:
(1) Provide for the child’s changing needs as the child grows and matures, in a way that minimizes the need for further modifications to the permanent parenting plan;
(2) Establish the authority and responsibilities of each parent with respect to the child, consistent with the criteria in this part;
(3) Minimize the child’s exposure to harmful parental conflict;
(4) Provide for a process for dispute resolution, before court action, unless precluded or limited by § 36-6-406; provided, that state agency cases are excluded from the requirement of dispute resolution as to any child support issue involved. In the process for dispute resolution:
(A) Preference shall be given to carrying out the parenting plan;
(B) The parents shall use the designated process to resolve disputes relating to the implementation of the plan;
(C) A written record shall be prepared of any agreement reached in mediation, arbitration, or settlement conference and shall be provided to each party to be drafted into a consent order of modification;
(D) If the court finds that a parent willfully failed to appear at a scheduled dispute resolution process without good reason, the court may, upon motion, award attorney fees and financial sanctions to the prevailing parent;
(E) The provisions of this subsection (a) shall be set forth in the decree; and
(F) Nothing in this part shall preclude court action, if required to protect the welfare of the child or a party;
(5) Allocate decision-making authority to one (1) or both parties regarding the child’s education, health care, extracurricular activities, and religious upbringing. The parties may incorporate an agreement related to the care and growth of the child in these specified areas, or in other areas, into their plan, consistent with the criteria in this part. Regardless of the allocation of decision making in the parenting plan, the parties may agree that either parent may make emergency decisions affecting the health or safety of the child;
(6) Provide that each parent may make the day-to-day decisions regarding the care of the child while the child is residing with that parent;
(7) Provide that when mutual decision making is designated but cannot be achieved, the parties shall make a good-faith effort to resolve the issue through the appropriate dispute resolution process, subject to the exception set forth in subdivision (a)(4)(F);
(8) Require the obligor to report annually on a date certain to the obligee, and the department of human services or its contractor in Title IV-D cases, on a form provided by the court, the obligor’s income as defined by the child support guidelines and related provisions contained in chapter 5 of this title; and
(9) Specify that if the driver license of a parent is currently expired, canceled, suspended or revoked or if the parent does not possess a valid driver license for any other reason, the parent shall make acceptable transportation arrangements as may be necessary to protect and ensure the health, safety and welfare of the child when such child is in the custody of such parent.
(b) Any permanent parenting plan shall include a residential schedule as defined in § 36-6-402. The court shall make residential provisions for each child, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances, which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child. The child’s residential schedule shall be consistent with this part. If the limitations of § 36-6-406 are not dispositive of the child’s residential schedule, the court shall consider the factors found in § 36-6-106(a)(1)-(15).
(c) The court shall approve a permanent parenting plan as follows:
(1) Upon agreement of the parties:
(A) With the entry of a final decree or judgment; or
(B) With a consent order to modify a final decree or judgment involving a minor child;
(2) If the parties cannot reach agreement on a permanent parenting plan, upon the motion of either party, or upon its own motion, the court may order appropriate dispute resolution proceedings pursuant to Tennessee Rules of the Supreme Court, Rule 31, to determine a permanent parenting plan; or
(3) If the parties have not reached agreement on a permanent parenting plan on or before forty-five (45) days before the date set for trial, each party shall file and serve a proposed permanent parenting plan, even though the parties may continue to mediate or negotiate. Failure to comply by a party may result in the court’s adoption of the plan filed by the opposing party if the court finds such plan to be in the best interests of the child. In determining whether the proposed plan is in the best interests of the child, the court may consider the allocation of residential time and support obligations contained in the child support guidelines and related provisions contained in chapter 5 of this title. Each parent submitting a proposed permanent parenting plan shall attach a verified statement of income pursuant to the child support guidelines and related provisions contained in chapter 5 of this title, and a verified statement that the plan is proposed in good faith and is in the best interest of the child.
(d) The administrative office of the courts shall develop a “parenting plan” form that shall be used consistently by each court within the state that approves parenting plans pursuant to § 36-6-403 or this section on and after July 1, 2005. The administrative office of the courts shall be responsible for distributing such form for the use of those courts no later than June 1, 2005. The administrative office of the courts shall be responsible for updating such form as it deems necessary, in consultation with the Tennessee family law commission, the domestic relations committee of the Tennessee judicial conference, and other knowledgeable persons.
36-6-405. Modifying permanent parenting plans.
(a) In a proceeding for a modification of a permanent parenting plan, a proposed parenting plan shall be filed and served with the petition for modification and with the response to the petition for modification. Such plan is not required if the modification pertains only to child support. The obligor parent’s proposed parenting plan shall be accompanied by a verified statement of that party’s income pursuant to the child support guidelines and related provisions contained in chapter 5 of this title. The process established by § 36-6-404(b) shall be used to establish an amended permanent parenting plan or final decree or judgment.
(b) In a proceeding for a modification of a permanent parenting plan, the existing residential schedule shall not be modified prior to a final hearing unless the parents agree to the modification or the court finds that the child will be subject to a likelihood of substantial harm absent the temporary modification. If a temporary modification of the existing residential schedule is granted ex parte, the respondent shall be entitled to an expedited hearing within fifteen (15) days of the entry of the temporary modification order.
(c) Title IV-D child support cases involving the department of human services or any of its public or private contractors shall be bifurcated from the remaining parental responsibility issues. Separate orders shall be issued concerning Title IV-D issues, which shall not be contained in, or part of, temporary, permanent or modified parenting plans. The department and its public or private contractors shall not be required to participate in mediation or dispute resolution pursuant to this part.
36-6-407. Allocation of parenting responsibilities.
(a) The court shall approve agreements of the parties allocating parenting responsibilities, or specifying rules, if it finds that:
(1) The agreement is consistent with any limitations on a parent’s decision-making authority mandated by § 36-6-406;
(2) The agreement is knowing and voluntary; and
(3) The agreement is in the best interest of the child.
(b) The court may consider a parent’s refusal, without just cause, to attend a court-ordered parental educational seminar in making an award of sole decision-making authority to the other parent. The court shall order sole decision-making to one (1) parent when it finds that:
(1) A limitation on the other parent’s decision-making authority is mandated by § 36-6-406;
(2) Both parents are opposed to mutual decision making; or
(3) One (1) parent is opposed to mutual decision making, and such opposition is reasonable in light of the parties’ inability to satisfy the criteria for mutual decision-making authority.
(c) Except as provided in subsections (a) and (b), the court shall consider the following criteria in allocating decision-making authority:
(1) The existence of a limitation under § 36-6-406;
(2) The history of participation of each parent in decision making in each of the following areas: physical care, emotional stability, intellectual and moral development, health, education, extracurricular activities, and religion; and whether each parent attended a court ordered parent education seminar;
(3) Whether the parents have demonstrated the ability and desire to cooperate with one another in decision making regarding the child in each of the following areas: physical care, emotional stability, intellectual and moral development, health, education, extracurricular activities, and religion; and
(4) The parents’ geographic proximity to one another, to the extent that it affects their ability to make timely mutual decisions.
(d) When determining whether an agreement allocating parenting responsibilities is in the best interest of the child pursuant to subdivision (a)(3), the court may consider any evidence submitted by a guardian ad litem appointed for the child, if one has been appointed by the court, subject to the Tennessee Rules of the Supreme Court relative to guidelines for guardians ad litem appointed for minor children in divorce proceedings and the Tennessee Rules of Evidence.
36-6-408. Parent educational seminar.
(a) In an action where a permanent parenting plan is or will be entered, each parent shall attend a parent educational seminar as soon as possible after the filing of the complaint. The seminar shall educate parents concerning how to protect and enhance the child’s emotional development and informing the parents regarding the legal process. The seminar shall also include a discussion of alternative dispute resolution, marriage counseling, the judicial process, and common perpetrator attitudes and conduct involving domestic violence. The program may be divided into sessions, which in the aggregate shall not be less than four (4) hours in duration. The seminar shall be educational in nature and not designed for individual therapy. The minor children shall be excluded from attending these sessions. The requirement of attendance at such a seminar may be waived upon motion by either party and the agreement of the court upon the showing of good cause for such relief.
(b) The fees or costs of the educational sessions under this section, which shall be reasonable, shall be borne by the parties and may be assessed by the court as it deems equitable. Such fees may be waived for indigent persons.
(c) No court shall deny the granting of a divorce from the bonds of matrimony for failure of a party or both parties to attend the educational session.
References, Resources and More:
- Tennessee Divorce Laws
- The Tennessee Divorce Process: How Divorces Work Start to Finish
- Tennessee Child Support Laws
- Tennessee Alimony Law
- Your First Steps: 7 Steps Planning Your Tennessee Divorce | Free eBook