Divorce Laws & Filing in Tennessee Answers to FAQs

Divorce laws and filing in Tennessee answers to frequently asked questions: property, adultery, divorce with child, process, uncontested, alimony, how to file, legal separation, reconciliation, name change, grounds, divorce papers, serving the divorce complaint, service of process, divorce filing cost, which county to file for divorce, filing first, contested, how long a divorce takes, divorce waiting period, and annulment.

Filing Divorce in Tennessee

How long do I have to live in Tennessee before filing for divorce?

In most circumstances, you must live in Tennessee at least six months in order to file for divorce. Or, if the grounds for divorce occurred in Tennessee, it may be possible to file for divorce in Tennessee. There are additional considerations which could make it more practical to file in another state. Jurisdiction over the other spouse is one. Possible special rules for children is another. So, if there is more than one state at issue, where you are considering filing for divorce, definitely check with an experienced Tennessee family lawyer.

How do I file for divorce?

In general, you must choose a county, find the right court clerk, pay a filing fee, file a Complaint for Divorce, a summons, a spouses’ personal information form, and serve the other spouse with those papers. Depending upon the county in which you file, you may also need to fill out a civil case cover sheet, Certificate of Divorce, or other forms. Before filing the divorce, be sure to get a set of all available sample forms when you go to the courthouse.

How do I file a complaint for divorce?

Each county can have its own unique procedures. Getting the paperwork right is important or the divorce complaint may not be accepted by the court clerk. You may want to look online first to determine if the clerk’s particular filing procedures are listed. You may also want to double-check by visiting the court clerk. Like all aspects of life, some court clerks may be more helpful than others.

How do I serve Tennessee divorce papers?

Accomplishing “service of process” means serving the divorce papers properly and lawfully. Service of process gives actual notice of the lawsuit to the defendant or respondent. A divorce is a lawsuit. If an adult is properly served with a lawsuit and ignores it, then the court has the authority to rule against the person who ignored the lawsuit by granting a default judgment. A divorce officially begins when the divorce complaint is filed and the complaint and summons are legally served upon the defendant.

How do I serve the divorce complaint on my spouse?

In most situations, you can serve the divorce complaint on your spouse by using your county’s sheriff’s department, using a private process server, or sending by mail if your spouse signs an acknowledgement of service of process pursuant to Tennessee law.

How much does serving divorce papers cost in Tennessee?

That depends on how much the local sheriff or private process server charges. Usually, fees are under $100. If your spouse completes a waiver of service form, then there may be no expense. Publishing a legal notice can be more expensive. Depending upon the newspaper, you can spend $50 or more.

When can I file for absolute divorce?

In most circumstances, you can file for absolute divorce after you are married and have lived in Tennessee for more than six months or the acts complained of in the divorce occurred in Tennessee. An absolute divorce means a traditional divorce. Tennessee law calls legal separation a divorce from bed and board. A legal separation is discussed below in more detail.

Where can I file for divorce in Tennessee?

You can file for divorce in the county where you live and where your spouse lives, in the county where your spouse lives now, or in the county where you lived when you separated. Depending upon the Tennessee county, the divorce is filed in Circuit Court, Chancery Court, or General Sessions Court. Check your county’s website to see if they list helpful details or call the court clerk’s office and ask if their court hears divorce cases. Do not file more than one divorce.

Where do I file my divorce papers?

In the county where you and your spouse live, or in the county where your spouse lives now, or in the county where you lived when you separated. The court in each county is different. The divorce court in your county could be a Circuit Court, Chancery Court, or General Sessions Court. Do not file divorce papers in more than one court.

What TN county do I file divorce in?

You file for divorce in the county where you and your spouse live, in the county where your spouse lives now, or in the county where you lived when you separated. To be sure where you should file, ask your experienced Tennessee divorce attorney.

What is Notice of Service of Process by Publication?

Service by publication is when notice of the lawsuit is placed in the newspaper in the county where defendant last resided. There are specific legal requirements associated with notice in a newspaper. In general, service by publication is only available when all knownnd reasonable avenues of finding and serving the spouse have been exhausted. Although Tennessee divorces granted with service by publication are valid, certain financial aspects of the divorce may not be final, such as property division, child support, and alimony. Most experienced family lawyers recommend obtaining a divorce through service of process by publication only as a last resort.

Where do I file for divorce if my spouse lives in another state?

That depends. When you live in Tennessee and your spouse does not, Tennessee courts may not have jurisdiction over the divorce or over your spouse. Jurisdiction means the courts in the State of Tennessee have legal authority to hear the divorce and legal authority over the other spouse. If your spouse does not live in Tennessee, then the courts in the State of Tennessee may not have jurisdiction over him or her. When the court in Tennessee lacks jurisdiction over your spouse or over certain real estate, you may be wasting time and money by filing for divorce in Tennessee. Depending upon the circumstances, the worst case scenario could be that your spouse objects, files for divorce in the other state, and the Tennessee divorce is dismissed. Jurisdictional issues can be very complex. Always talk to an experienced family law attorney about your concerns with jurisdiction.

If I moved out of Tennessee to another state, where do I file for divorce?

If your spouse still resides in Tennessee, then Tennessee could be the only place to file. While you must be a Tennessee resident for six months to file for divorce in Tennessee, other states’ laws are different. There may be a shorter or longer period of time to be eligible to file in the new state. The new state may not have jurisdiction over your spouse if he or she remains in Tennessee. If you moved to Tennessee from another state, then discuss your divorce filing options with your attorney. There may be important practical reasons for filing divorce in the state where you lived before moving to Tennessee or where your spouse resides now.

Where do I file for divorce if my spouse is in jail?

If you can and should file for divorce in Tennessee, then, most likely, you will file in the county where you live. Check with your lawyer first, so you do not waste time and money. You will need to determine the particular legal requirements for service of process on an inmate. Those legal requirements can vary depending upon your spouse’s incarceration in a federal, state, or county facility.

Will my divorce papers be public?

Yes. The divorce papers you and your spouse file at court are public record. Those papers can include the complaint for divorce, pleadings, discovery, marital dissolution agreement, permanent parenting plan, and child support worksheets. The public can obtain copies of any papers in your file. However, the Spouses’ Personal Information Form is not public record and should be kept secret because it contains confidential, personally identifiable information, including both spouses’ social security numbers.

After I file for divorce, do I have to continue to live in Tennessee?

No. If a Tennessee court could hear the divorce at the time the divorce was filed, the Tennessee court will be able to grant the divorce even if both spouses move from the state. Until the divorce is settled, however, you may need to return to Tennessee to appear in court for motions or other hearings.

How much does it cost to file for divorce in Tennessee?

It depends on the county in which you file. Costs change regularly. Typical costs include a filing fee which can vary depending on whether children are involved, service of process, and possible additional fees.

What about divorce in Tennessee with a child?

Depending on the county in which you file for divorce, the divorce filing fee may be different for divorce with a child than divorce without a child.  If you have a child, there are statistical requirements you must include in the Complaint for Divorce as well as many additional requirements regarding settling your case.  For example, parents must complete a permanent parenting plan and parenting classes.  For more detail, see Parenting Plans in Tennessee: Forms and Terms.

Should I file for divorce first in Tennessee?

Filing for divorce does not mean you must get divorced. Couples can reconcile after filing. But if the marriage is ending, there could be advantages to filing for divorce first. Even though it is rare that a spouse wants a divorce trial, trials can happen when at least one spouse is unwilling to settle. If there is a trial, it can be a strategic advantage to have your lawyer present your case to the judge first. For a more detailed discussion, read 5 Advantages of Filing First in My Tennessee Divorce.

Tennessee Divorce Process

What steps are involved in getting a divorce?

There are two ways to get a divorce: settlement or trial.

In very general terms, settlements start with filing for divorce. Tennessee courts must have jurisdiction over you and your spouse. Either you or your spouse must live in Tennessee for at least six months before filing the Complaint for Divorce. You or your lawyer files a divorce complaint with the clerk of the court in the county of your residence. The complaint and summons must then be served (delivered to your spouse) by the sheriff, by private process server, or by mail with a signed waiver of service form. If the spouses reach a settlement, they sign a marital dissolution agreement (also called a marital property settlement). If you have children, then you and your spouse will need to agree upon a permanent parenting plan and child support worksheets, both of which must be approved by your judge or chancellor. After the waiting period, one spouse will appear in court to seek a final decree of divorce be entered by the court granting the divorce and approving the settlement. By doing so, the agreements become orders of the court and the divorce becomes final.

Regardless of whether there is a settlement or a trial, one or both spouses may require the exchange of written discovery (information provided under oath and document production), may file for temporary support (alimony, child support and attorney’s fees), and may file other motions for relief.

In all cases with children, the spouses are required to attend parenting classes and mediation if no settlement is reached prior to hearing a divorce trial. Many judges require mediation for all cases. If the spouses do not settle at mediation, the divorce heads for trial. Settlements can be, and are often are, reached just minutes before trial. This is described as “settling on the court house steps.”

At a typical divorce trial, the plaintiff’s counsel begins with an opening statement followed by an opening statement by defendant’s counsel. Then the plaintiff’s counsel calls witnesses and seeks admission of evidence. The defendant’s counsel will be able cross-examine witnesses. At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case, the defendant’s counsel will do the same calling of witnesses and seeking admission of evidence. Typical evidence includes testimony and documents regarding disputed legal issues. Following closing statements, the court will either rule immediately or take the matter under advisement, ruling on the matter at a later date.

Legal issues addressed at a divorce trial can include proving:

  • Grounds for divorce;
  • Identification, classification (marital property or separate property) and valuation of property;
  • Equitable marital property division;
  • Designation of primary residential parent and parenting time;
  • Child support; and
  • Alimony and attorney’s fees.

For more detail, read Tennessee Divorce Process: How Divorces Work Start to Finish.

How soon can a divorce be finalized?

For a divorce to be finalized in a relatively short period of time, the spouses must reach a settlement. When settlement is reached before Tennessee’s waiting period runs and the spouses have no children, the soonest a divorce can be finalized is 60 days after filing the Complaint for Divorce. If the spouses do have children, then there is a 90-day waiting period. For a variety of reasons, though, most divorces take longer than the minimum waiting period.

After the court makes the Final Divorce Order, each spouse has 30 days from entry of the final decree of divorce to appeal. During this 30-day appeal period, most experienced family law attorneys recommend that former spouses do not get married again or buy any real property.

How long does a divorce take in Tennessee?

While most divorces may last longer than one or both spouses may want, there is no average length of time. In general, a mutual-consent, no-fault divorce typically takes from two to six months. Most of that time is spent assembling the needed information about the marital residence, debts, retirement, and other financial details. Then there is some period of time required for negotiation. When there are children, it may take longer for the parents to reach an agreement about the details of a permanent parenting plan and child support worksheets. If the parties can agree to a settlement quickly, then the divorce can be granted as soon as the required minimum length of time expires.

How long does a contested divorce take in Tennessee?

There are no published statistics about how long a contested divorce takes in Tennessee. A typical contested divorce may take from 6 months to over two years.  Important variables are the complexity of the marital estate (for instance, valuation of business ownership, pensions, complicated earnings and bonus structure), the volume of cases on the particular judge’s docket, and the relative anger of the spouses.

How long do I have to wait to receive my divorce?

To get a divorce, you must settle or go to trial. Most cases settle. Some divorce settlements without children can be reached and finalized within 60 days, which is the minimum length of time required by Tennessee law. Settlements involving divorces with children take a minimum of 90 days, also the minimum length of time required under Tennessee law. With settlements, most divorces are typically completed within six months to a year and a half. Contested divorces typically take longer. Depending upon the volume of other matters on the particular court’s calendar, divorces resulting in trials can take 18 months or longer from start to finish.

Is there a waiting period for divorce in Tennessee?

There are waiting periods required under Tennessee law. When the divorce is by mutual consent, the spouses have a marital dissolution agreement (MDA), seek a no-fault divorce, and do not have minor children, then the earliest the court can hear their divorce is 60 days after the complaint for divorce was filed. With minor children and custody decisions to make, the earliest the spouses’ divorce can be heard is 90 days after filing the complaint. Even though the spouses have settled every issue, have their MDA and parenting agreement signed and ready, 90 days must still pass before the judge hears the case. For more information, see Tennessee Divorce Waiting Period.

How long do I have to wait before I can get divorced?

First, consider the waiting period. (See the discussion above.) Occasionally, spouses are able to settle their cases prior to the waiting period expiring. Otherwise, the length of time to wait depends upon how long it takes to settle the case. Many settlements occur at mediation. If not, then there may be a trial. In general, there are several reasons for delay. Here is a short list of the many things to be done:

  • Spouses must assemble and exchange necessary information and documents;
  • The lawyers must review the documents and prepare settlement positions;
  • The lawyers must deal with temporary support and other motions;
  • There is usually some negotiation before, during, and after mediation;
  • If there is a settlement, the matter must be set on the court’s docket for a hearing to approve the settlement terms;
  • If there is no settlement, the trial date must be set;
  • The trial is held and the judge or chancellor must issue a ruling; and
  • Following entry of the ruling, both parties have 30 days to appeal to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

When is my divorce case going to be over?

Divorces which seem simple at the beginning can still be delayed for many reasons, including a lack of cooperation from one or both spouses in sharing information, documents, and negotiation. Some spouses are just too angry or scared to reach a timely settlement. Some divorces take longer because decisions need to be made by the judge, which means getting court dates for hearings and determining key issues. In some jurisdictions, legal issues can be decided more quickly because some judges are able to hear contested matters faster than others. The speed of a divorce can also depend upon the time of year. Often, getting hearings held in December or in the summer months is very difficult because judges (and lawyers) take vacations.

How is a divorce granted?

Following a settlement, divorces are granted by a judge when he or she approves the marital dissolution agreement (or property settlement agreement). Typically, the divorce is granted on grounds of irreconcilable differences. If the spouses have children, then a judge also approves the proposed permanent parenting plan and child support worksheets and makes them a court order. If a divorce trial is held, a court will grant a divorce if one or both spouses has proven grounds for divorce (typically inappropriate marital conduct) and all of the other issues are ruled upon.

What is an uncontested divorce?

An “uncontested divorce” is a commonly used phrase that has no real definition or specific meaning. Most people use the term uncontested divorce to mean that both spouses agree on all aspects of the divorce. While it is possible for both spouses to agree on all aspects of a divorce, it is common for at least some dispute to arise. Any dispute requires negotiation and compromise in order to reach a settlement. Whether the spouses disagree about what to do with the marital home or how to divide the wedding gifts, almost all divorces have some level of contention. To the extent there are no disagreements, uncontested divorces are almost always faster, easier, and less expensive.

To get an uncontested divorce, do I have to prove that my spouse did something wrong?

No. You just have to say that you and your spouse can no longer get along together as husband and wife and the marriage cannot be saved. The legal term describing an agreed upon divorce is “irreconcilable differences.” All terms of the divorce must be agreed upon, including property division, alimony, child custody, child support, attorney’s fees, and all other issues.

What happens if an uncontested divorce becomes contested?

There are only two ways for a divorce to be granted. Either the spouses must settle or go to trial. If a divorce becomes contested, the spouses must usually attend mediation (unless they have already reached a settlement). If a settlement cannot be reached, then the spouses must prepare for trial. Some contested divorces are settled after the spouses have prepared for trial, but before the trial is actually held.

Do I have to go to court to get a divorce in Tennessee?

Maybe. At least one spouse will need to appear in court, testify, request a divorce, and submit the settlement paperwork to the judge for approval.

What typically happens if I go to court to obtain my Tennessee divorce myself?

What exactly happens if you go to court to obtain your divorce yourself depends a great deal on the judge or chancellor hearing the matter. Once the divorce is settled, one of the spouse’s lawyers will complete the remainder of the paperwork including the final decree of divorce. The other lawyer will review the paperwork and a court date will be set. In court on the day of the divorce, typically each case will be called one by one. The spouse obtaining the divorce will step forward, be sworn, and testify from the witness stand. The lawyer will ask the spouse questions on direct examination about the filing, jurisdiction, and settlement terms dealing with real estate, retirement assets, and alimony. If there are children, the questions will be more detailed about parenting time, child support amounts, and health insurance. The judge may ask a few questions about the children and overall settlement. Finally, the lawyer will ask the spouse to request that the court approve the divorce settlement and grant the divorce. If everything is in order and the judge approves the settlement, a final decree of divorce will be entered incorporating the marital dissolution agreement. If there are children, the judge may sign the permanent parenting plan with attached child support worksheets.

What is marital dissolution agreement in a Tennessee divorce?

A marital dissolution agreement is the divorce settlement paperwork. A marital dissolution agreement can also be called a marital settlement agreement or property settlement agreement. Marital dissolution agreements contain all of the necessary terms for divorce including, but not limited to, grounds for divorce, real and personal property division, debt division, alimony, health and life insurance, taxes, and all other remaining issues. For more information, see Tennessee Divorce Settlement | Marital Dissolution Agreement or “MDA”.

What is a marital settlement agreement in a divorce in Tennessee?

A marital settlement agreement is the divorce settlement paperwork. A marital settlement agreement can also be called a marital dissolution agreement or property settlement agreement.

What happens if we reconcile and want to cancel the divorce?

Tell your lawyer. Your lawyer can draft a document that dismisses or non-suits the complaint for divorce and, if applicable, the counter-complaint. This is often called an Order of Reconciliation. If court costs remain unpaid, at least one spouse must be responsible to pay them.

What is a divorce going to cost me?

It is impossible to know exactly. There are many factors unique to each person’s situation. How long is the marriage? Are the spouses willing to cooperate in sharing important financial information and documentation? Who is the judge? Who are the lawyers? How do the lawyers charge? Is there a marital residence and assets to divide? Are there pensions or other retirement assets? Are there any other complicated assets, such as a business, which the parties may need to value and divide? Is alimony contested? Are there children? Do any of the children have special needs? Do both spouses agree about parenting time with the children? Is child support agreed upon? Will the uncontested divorce become contested? Is one spouse willing to pay for the other spouse’s lawyer? How angry are the spouses?

How much does a simple uncontested divorce cost?

A “simple uncontested divorce” costs depends on what is meant by “simple” and “uncontested.”  How much a given divorce firm changes depends on many, many factors including expertise, experience, efficiency and reputation of the attorney’s office handling the case.  Many experienced Tennessee family lawyers help keep costs down by efficient use of paralegals and other support staff.

Excluding court costs and process servers’ fees, some very inexpensive lawyers charge under $1,000.00. Other websites on the Internet will sell divorce forms for under $250.00. The Supreme Court of Tennessee offers free legal forms and notes. Let the buyer beware. Divorces can be complicated and the less you know, the more you can be hurt by trusting the wrong person, website, or form.

At what point during the divorce process can a spouse remarry?

Only after the divorce is granted. After a divorce is granted, both parties have the right to appeal the judgment within 30 days. Most lawyers recommend waiting at least 30 days after the divorce is final before remarrying to allow for a possible appeal.

At what point during the divorce process can a spouse start dating?

Most experienced family lawyers recommend against dating during the divorce process, especially if there are children. Technically, any sexual relations with a third party during the marriage, even after separation, can constitute adultery. Adultery is grounds (legal basis) for divorce. Also, adultery can constitute fault for the divorce, which is a factor the court considers when ruling on alimony. If there are no children and the spouses have separated, there is less risk of an adverse reaction by the judge. Regardless of the legal ramifications, the other spouse may learn of the relationship and seek revenge by negotiating financial issues more aggressively or otherwise making the divorce more difficult and expensive.

If I separate from my spouse, do I have to divorce?

No. Until the divorce is final, judges and chancellors encourage spouses to try and reconcile.


Divorce Lawyers in Tennessee

What happens if my spouse and I agree on everything? Do we still need a lawyer?

An experienced family lawyer needs to review your proposed settlement terms, draft the settlement agreement or review the draft, and advise you accordingly. There are so many issues to be considered, it is best if you have a lawyer explain the legal aspects of the divorce, advising you only as to what is in your best interests. Many lawyers refuse to represent both parties because they believe it is a conflict of interest or because of the high level of risk of a potential for a conflict of interest.

What do you mean by a conflict of interest?

Many experienced Tennessee family lawyers believe it is unethical to represent both parties in a divorce. Lawyers have an ethical duty to advocate for their client. If one lawyer represents both spouses, the lawyer cannot advise either party regarding their options for better settlement terms. That is so, even if the agreed upon terms are harmful or if the terms agreed upon could easily be renegotiated more favorably if an experienced family lawyer represented that spouse. In other words, if one lawyer is drafting an agreement for both parties, that lawyer has no duty to tell either spouse that the agreement is likely harmful.

Do I need to hire a divorce attorney in Tennessee?

We recommend you do. Even though you may think your divorce is simple, we meet with spouses regularly who seek our advice on how to fix very serious problems with their divorce months or even years later. Usually, it is too late. An experienced Tennessee family law attorney can explain your options. Without knowing your options, you may be signing away rights to money or benefits for your children. Rights you did not even know existed. While some divorce laws may appear simple and straight-forward, some aspects of divorce work exactly the opposite of the way it may seem.

Your experienced Tennessee divorce lawyer can explain the divorce process, called legal procedure. There are very few aspects of divorce which are truly standard. Without a lawyer, negotiations can be very difficult or downright impossible. Without a lawyer, how will you know what you can ask for or should ask for? Every divorce is different. Every divorcing couple has different employers, unique retirement assets (including pensions and 401(k)s), real estate, alimony, children with special needs, and complicated child support issues.

The details when dealing with division of property in divorce can be very challenging. Property is divided equitably, but not necessarily equally. Repayment of debt must be determined as well. In divorces with children, permanent parenting plans and child support worksheets are required. At each step, there are many possible variations. Some options may be very beneficial for your spouse, but financially devastating to you. Without an experienced Tennessee family lawyer guiding you, you may never know the difference.

If you still want to handle your divorce on your own, look into the Supreme Court of Tennessee’s approved divorce forms. The forms are designed for spouses without children who have agreed divorces and who are not represented by a lawyer.

Why should I use a divorce lawyer in Tennessee?

Even if you trust your spouse implicitly, there are often ways an unrepresented spouse may be taken advantage of without even knowing it at the time. Divorce settlements can be made to look “standard” even when they are not in the best interests of one spouse or the children. Special attention must be paid, not only to what is included in the settlement paperwork, but also what is not included. For example, when one spouse receives the marital residence in the divorce, what happens to the mortgage? Is the spouse who receives the marital residence required to refinance the mortgage? If the spouse cannot refinance the mortgage, what happens then?

With children, the permanent parenting plan sets out who is the primary residential parent and who has the children on what nights. Child custody factors guide judges in their decisions, but most divorces are settled. Parents need to understand their options for dividing holidays, summers, and school nights. Some of the options relate to legal requirements. Other options relate to important logistical and financial aspects of parenting through college. Child support must be agreed upon as well. Some basic questions are typical to many cases. What comprises income for determining child support? Will overtime, commissions, and bonuses be included? When should overtime, commissions and bonuses be excluded? Finally, how many nights should each parent agree to have the children? All of these decisions will have a long-term impact on the children, both emotionally and financially.

How do I find the best divorce lawyer for me in Memphis?

Finding the best divorce lawyer in Memphis for you can make all the difference in your divorce. Ask persons you trust for referrals. Write down their names. Often, you will hear the names of lawyers your friends and family strongly recommend against hiring. If you know a lawyer, ask him or her. Research all of the lawyers. In general, we recommend hiring a lawyer who practices only divorce and family law. Do not rely on fancy websites and slick marketing campaigns. Focus on the substance of what is said. Avoid the path of least resistance. Do not rely on just one source. Do your homework. Learn about Tennessee divorce law.

Call more than one lawyer. Consult with at least two or three. Is the lawyer’s staff professional and friendly? Write down questions to ask in advance. Prepare for the consultation. Consider hiring the lawyer who can help reduce tensions between you and your spouse (not increase them). From your initial impressions, will the lawyer act professionally even if there is a great deal of conflict? Avoid a lawyer who acts like he or she is doing you a favor. Listen. Do you understand what the lawyer says? You need to be comfortable, but you are not looking for a new best friend who will tell you what you want to hear just to calm you down. You need a high level of confidence in that lawyer’s skill, experience, expertise, and bed-side manner, so to speak. For a more detailed discussion and a list of questions you may want to ask, see our Lawyer Selection FAQs page.

Ask tough questions. Expect direct answers. Who will be working on your case? How is billing handled? Make sure you can afford the lawyer you want. Realize that there is no such thing as the best divorce lawyer in Memphis. What really matters is finding the best divorce lawyer for you.


Divorce Mediation

What is divorce mediation in Tennessee?

Mediation is a voluntary process designed to help reduce tensions and focus divorcing couples on settlement. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution. There are many great mediators in Memphis. If you have a lawyer, your lawyer can help recommend one. While you are not required to have a lawyer, most experienced Tennessee family lawyers recommend you attend mediation with a lawyer to help in the negotiation process.

Most lawyers who are mediators also practice family law. You need to know that there are rules about mediation. Learn them. There are many false myths about mediation, too. For instance, the truth is that the mediator you select cannot advise on the best financial terms upon which you should settle. That is the job your lawyer performs.

Where do I learn more about mediating a Tennessee divorce?

Read our page Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Tennessee Divorce Mediation.

Do I need my own lawyer to mediate my divorce? Should I have my own lawyer to mediate my divorce?

Technically, you are not required to have a lawyer at your mediation. However, we strongly recommend that you have an experienced Tennessee family lawyer advise you and guide you through the mediation process. Learning what you should be asking for is the first step. All aspects of divorce are complicated. Negotiating the best terms for you and your family can make all the difference. If you rely solely on what you read on the Internet and in books, you will almost certainly regret it. There are exceptions to almost all laws. Rarely are there standard solutions to any given set of issues and problems to be solved.


Divorce Laws in Tennessee

Where can I find out about Tennessee divorce laws affecting my case?

Most Tennessee divorce and family laws are found in Chapter 36 of the Tennessee Code and in opinions from the Tennessee appellate courts. To learn more, see Tennessee Divorce Laws and our Tennessee Family Law Blog for updates, analysis, commentary and case law summaries.

I have tried reading Tennessee’s divorce statutes, but only get confused.

Understandably so. Statutes are hard to read and even harder to interpret. Also, understanding the statutes will not necessarily tell you how your case will turn out. That is because each judge can interpret and apply Tennessee laws differently and because the facts of each case are different.

So what is a person to do?

Hire an experienced Tennessee family law attorney with whom you are comfortable and whom you trust. A great first step is downloading and reading our free e-book, Your First Steps: 7 Steps Planning Your Tennessee Divorce.

Who gets custody of the child in a divorce in Tennessee?

Generally, spouses agree on designating one of them to serve as the child’s primary residential parent, on parenting time, and on decision-making authority. They then record their agreement in the permanent parenting plan. The agreement must be approved by the court and be entered as an order. If the parents cannot agree, then a custody trial is held. The court will determine who shall serve as the primary residential parent by considering a number of child custody factors listed in Tennessee law. To learn more, see Tennessee Child Custody Laws.

How is child support determined in Tennessee?

Child support is determined by a fairly complex set of variables in a worksheet. The Tennessee child support guidelines set forth the rules, definitions, and application of the various formulae. In general, the three most important variables affecting the amount of child support owed are the father’s income, the mother’s income, and the number of parenting nights. Other important variables include, but are not limited to, health insurance costs, work-related child care, extraordinary expenses, and private school tuition. For more information, see Tennessee Child Support Laws.

What happens to retirement and 401(k) plans in a divorce?

Just as with any asset in Tennessee divorce, retirement and 401(k) plan accounts must be identified, classified as marital property or separate property, valued, and divided equitably. Balances existing at the beginning of the marriage are almost always considered separate property. Money earned and contributed to the accounts during the marriage are marital property subject to division. For more information, see IRAs: Dividing Personal Retirement Assets in Tennessee Divorce and What Every Tennessee Woman Should Know about Retirement Accounts & Pensions.

Do I have to pay alimony in a divorce in Tennessee?

Maybe. Depending upon the length of the marriage and other listed Tennessee alimony law factors, Tennessee courts determine each party’s need and ability to pay before ordering one spouse to pay alimony to the other. For more details, see Tennessee Alimony Law.

Can I get spousal maintenance in Tennessee divorce? Will I have to pay maintenance to my spouse?

Spousal maintenance in Tennessee is called alimony. In Tennessee, there are four types of alimony: alimony in futuro (also called periodic alimony), transitional alimony, rehabilitative alimony, and alimony in solido (also called lump sum alimony).

Must child support, child custody, alimony, and property all be decided before the divorce is final?

Almost always. A judge has authority to declare a couple divorced without having determined all of the legal issues or without the parties having reached a settlement. However, very few judges will declare a couple divorced before child custody, child support, and other important issues are finalized.

Can a couple become legally married by living together as man and wife under Tennessee’s laws (common law marriage)?

Tennessee does not recognize common law marriage by a couple living in Tennessee. Depending on the circumstances, Tennessee could recognize the marriage of a couple who were considered married by common law in another state.

What is COBRA insurance?

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) requires health insurance plans to continue health insurance coverage of the spouses and children of employees who divorce. COBRA can extend coverage and prevent a lapse in coverage.  For more details, see COBRA in Tennessee Divorce | Continuing Health Insurance Coverage Laws.

How can COBRA help if I am separated or divorced?

COBRA is a federal law that allows a spouse and children who are losing their health or dental benefits to continue health insurance coverage in certain circumstances. Under COBRA, Tennessee divorce is generally included as a qualifying event. Through COBRA, individuals pay the entire monthly premium plus an administrative fee, and may be able to remain insured with their health plan for a period of time. Many Tennessee COBRA plans provide for 36 months continued coverage, but not necessarily all plans. COBRA provisions have very strict notice requirements in order to request COBRA benefits. Definitely check the company’s notice requirements as soon as possible. And make sure you timely comply with those strict notice requirements. For more, read FAQs about COBRA Continuation Health Coverage.

Can I record my spouse or read my spouse’s e-mail?

There are Federal and State laws governing recording other people’s phone calls and conversations and hacking into computers to read e-mail. The laws are complicated and offer few bright-line rules about what is legal and what is not legal. Most experienced family lawyers will caution a client against recording conversations with a spouse or reading a spouse’s e-mail messages without specific advice from counsel. Beside the possibility of criminal ramifications, some judges look negatively upon such tactics. For more information, see Tennessee Tape Recording Conversations Law & Reading E-mail in Divorce.

Where can I learn about electronic surveillance and spying on my spouse?

Read Electronic Spying in Tennessee Divorce Laws.

What are effective strategies for my divorce in Tennessee?

For discussion of 10 strategies, see our video Top 10 Tennessee Divorce Strategies.

Who gets to keep the wedding ring in a divorce in Tennessee?

A ring is a conditional gift that the couple marry. If the couple does not marry, then the ring must be returned in most cases. If the couple does marry, then the ring becomes the separate property of the recipient, as a gift.


Military Divorce Laws in Tennessee

Where is a good place to learn about military divorces in Tennessee?

See our detailed page, Military Divorce in Tennessee.

If I am in the military and stationed in Tennessee, how can I establish residency to file for divorce?

Each state’s laws are different. Tennessee allows a member of the military to be considered a resident after one year of residency:

[A]ny person in the armed services of the United States, or the spouse of any such person, who has been living [in Tennessee] for a period of not less than one (1) year shall be presumed to be a resident of [Tennessee], and the presumption of residence shall be overcome only by clear and convincing evidence of a domicile elsewhere.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-104(b).

However, another section of Tennessee law says that, for purposes of filing for divorce, six months could be a sufficient length of time. A person’s individual circumstances and situation can impact the best way to proceed. Seek experienced, competent legal advice on all jurisdiction-related legal issues.


Name Change After a Tennessee Divorce

Can I change back to my maiden name at the time of divorce in Tennessee?

Yes. But a person cannot change his or her name to do any of the following: perpetrate a fraud, avoid creditors, adversely affect the rights of any minor child, avoid legal process, or accomplish some unlawful purpose. Changing a last name to return to a prior last name is common at the end of a divorce. If you forget to change your name at the time of the divorce, you can file a petition to change your name after the divorce is granted. Be mindful that doing so requires a separate court cost because, technically, it is a separate legal proceeding.


Legal Separation vs. Divorce in Tennessee

What is a legal separation?

In Tennessee, a legal separation is called a “divorce from bed and board.”  A legal separation allows for the court-ordered support and maintenance of a spouse without the granting of an absolute divorce. Either party can sue for divorce and automatically have the divorce granted later after two years – no questions asked. A legal separation can be as expensive as a divorce because the spouses are still required to divide all of their property and determine temporary alimony. Read more about Tennessee Legal Separation.

Should I file for legal separation or divorce?

In almost all cases, filing for divorce is preferred over legal separation. There are only a few situations in which filing for legal separation is likely to be preferred over divorce. There can be religious or financial reasons. For example, if the spouses obtain a legal separation and stay married, a spouse can keep the other covered on health insurance. This could be very important if the other spouse has a very serious, pre-existing medical condition or is otherwise uninsurable. Please note that the process of legal separation can be just as expensive as with an absolute divorce.


Annulment in Tennessee

Can I get an annulment in Tennessee?

Annulments are rare because they have very specific legal requirements. Annulments may be had if the marriage was illegal (i.e., incestuous) or based on fraud or duress. The situations in which fraud or duress occur are generally very limited and specific. An annulment can also be had if one party was underage. The rules and applications can be strict and complex. The law also prevents annulments from causing children to be illegitimate. In an annulment situation, alimony is not available and property rights will be restored as if the marriage had never taken place. For more details, see Requirements for Annulment in Tennessee.

Where do I get annulment forms?

As far as I am aware, no standard annulment forms that apply statewide are available online for free from the Supreme Court of Tennessee. But a petition for annulment form might be available for purchase. We do not endorse any websites selling legal forms. With online legal forms, the more generic the problem, the easier it is to use the form. Petitions for annulment are not standard or cookie-cutter matters. Actions for annulment are probably rarer than you would guess. Almost all requests for annulment are fact-specific to the particular situation. You could check your local county’s Circuit and Chancery Court websites. Finally, you might want to look for a form in a law book at the law library of a Tennessee law school. We strongly recommend you visit with an experienced Tennessee family law attorney in your area who has experience with annulments.

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