Uncontested, Mutually Agreed Divorces for Tennessee Spouses
In Tennessee, there is no special status for an “agreed divorce.” It is a term created by the Supreme Court of Tennessee to describe for the general public how to proceed (and really when to proceed) with representing yourself in a divorce case with very little conflict between the parties. Embedded in the forms and instructions is the hidden message, if you don’t “qualify” for an agreed divorce, you should really get a lawyer. Of course, this author always recommends seeking competent legal advice from an experienced Tennessee family law attorney.
Assuming both spouses want the divorce, these are six basic requirements for an uncontested, agreed divorce:
● 6 Months Tennessee Residency
There are two ways to satisfy the residency requirement. Either spouse lived in Tennessee for the past six months, or the complainant lived here at the time of separation. Is either spouse a service member? When stationed here for at least one year, the military spouse is presumed to be a state resident (although that presumption may be rebutted with clear and convincing evidence of residency in another state).
● No Minor Children
The parties do not have children who are under the age of 18, who are disabled, or who are still attending high school (including a 19-year-old who hasn’t graduated yet). Furthermore, if the wife is pregnant, then child custody decisions will need to be made, removing the agreed divorce option.
● Uncomplicated Assets
The agreed divorce is not recommended for parties who share ownership of real estate, a business, or who receive or will be receiving retirement benefits. Assets held by the spouses in a simple uncontested divorce, then, are fairly uncomplicated, making it much more likely that the final divorce decree will not engender future problems.
● Property Division
Similarly, the spouses must reach agreement on the division of their marital property which includes assets and debts. The spouses should take the property settlement seriously and negotiate carefully over who gets what in the divorce.
● Addresses Alimony
Do the spouses disagree on the payment of alimony, whether a single form of spousal support or combination? An outstanding dispute over alimony in futuro (periodic), alimony in solido (lump sum), transitional alimony, or rehabilitative alimony changes the divorce from “uncontested” to “contested.”
● Signed Divorce Agreement
Any divorce agreement must be reduced to a written instrument and signed by both parties. In addition, a completed health insurance notice must be filed with the court and sent via certified mail to the other spouse. Assuming there are no objections, the divorce agreement becomes the final decree issued by the family court.
Why You Should Consult with a Tenn. Family Law Attorney
There are many reasons why you should consult with a divorce lawyer before filing papers with the court, even when the two of you seem to be in complete accord on all of the issues. Retaining legal counsel is not mandatory (you may represent yourself in court), but in practical terms it’s certainly worth the investment in your future.
First, you may not fully appreciate the legal ramifications of what it is you are agreeing to or signing off on. At a minimum, you should have a lawyer review the divorce agreement before you execute it or any related instruments.
Second, complex marital assets may complicate the equitable division of property. Such interests may include diverse investments, real estate assets, and business ownership, all of which require valuation, analysis of tax implications upon division, and creation of several transfer or conveyance instruments (such as deeds). And it isn’t just assets that need to be equitably divided in the divorce, there are debts to allocate between the spouses, as well.
Third, with qualified pensions or individual retirement arrangements (IRAs), a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) may be needed to instruct the plan administrator and implement division of the asset. QDROs are complex instruments requiring special knowledge of the law and should be handled by a Tennessee QDRO attorney.
Fourth, if the other party hires a lawyer, you should consider doing so, too. Do not be misled into believing that your spouse’s lawyer will look after your legal interests (or that saving a few dollars in the short run justifies not having your own legal advocate). A divorce attorney has a duty of loyalty to the client. However, that duty does not extend to the client’s spouse.
Fifth, both spouses must enter into the divorce agreement voluntarily. Whenever there is a threat of domestic violence, the essential voluntariness component may be completely absent. If a victimized spouse agrees to sign under duress or in fear of retaliation, then the so-called “agreement” is open to objection.
Do you have lingering questions about filing for divorce? Take a moment to read up on:
Memphis divorce attorney Miles Mason, Sr., practices family law exclusively and is founder of the Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC. Are you considering divorce and need to know what to expect? Check out The Tennessee Divorce Client’s Handbook: What Every Divorcing Spouse Needs to Know, available on Amazon and Kindle. To schedule your confidential consultation, call us today at (901) 683-1850.