How to File a Divorce in Tennessee

How to File a Divorce in Tennessee

by Edward A. Haman, Esq., August 2015

In Tennessee, as elsewhere, divorce for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody and support.

Residency, Where to File, and the Divorce Procedure

To file for divorce in Tennessee, if the grounds for divorce arose in Tennessee, the person filing for divorce (the petitioner) must have been a resident when the grounds arose. Otherwise, one party must be a Tennessee resident for at least 6 months. You may file in the Chancery Court or the Circuit Court (depending upon the county) in the county where you and your spouse lived at the time of separation, or the county in which the respondent resides. If the respondent is not a Tennessee resident, or is in prison, then the county in which the petitioner resides.

The simplest procedure is an uncontested divorce where you and your spouse can reach an agreement about all issues. You begin the procedure by filing a Petition for Divorce, along with various supporting documents, including a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. Copies of the documents are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Final Decree of Divorce.   

Grounds for Divorce

Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce. Tennessee, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for divorce, and numerous traditional fault-based grounds. To get a no-fault divorce in Tennessee, you need to state in the Petition for Divorce that “there are irreconcilable differences between the parties.” You and your spouse must have a written agreement as to property division, and child custody and support.

The fault-based grounds for divorce include adultery, desertion, conviction of crimes, habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotics (beginning after the marriage), cruel and inhuman treatment or “inappropriate marital conduct,” and the husband “offered such indignities to the wife as to render her condition intolerable and thereby forcing her to withdraw.” In most cases, there is no reason to use either of these, since they add complexity to the process by requiring proof.

Property Division

A divorce involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. Generally, each party will keep his or her separate property, which is property:

  • acquired before marriage, or in exchange for such property,
  • constituting income from, and appreciation of, property acquired before marriage,
  • acquired at any time by gift or inheritance,
  • constituting an award for personal injuries and crime victim  compensation, or
  • acquired after an order of legal separation making a final disposition of property.

All other property is marital property. If you and your spouse cannot agree on the division of property, the judge will divide marital property, after considering all relevant factors, including:

  • the duration of the marriage,
  • each party’s age, physical and mental health, vocational skills, employability, earning capacity, estate, financial liabilities, and financial needs,
  • a party’s contribution to the education, training, or increased earnings of the other,
  • the relative ability of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income,
  • each party’s contribution to the acquisition, preservation, appreciation, depreciation, or dissipation of marital or separate property, including as a homemaker or parent,
  • the value of the separate property of each party,
  • the estate of each party at the time of the marriage,
  • each party’s economic circumstances when the property division becomes effective,
  • the tax consequences to each party, and any costs associated with an asset,
  • the amount of social security benefits available to each party,
  • whether either party should be awarded the family home and household effects, or the use thereof, with special consideration to a party having custody of a child, and
  • any other factors necessary to consider the equities between the parties.

Alimony in Tennessee

Alimony is also referred to as support and maintenance in Tennessee. Absent an agreement regarding alimony, the judge will determine whether to grant alimony, as well as the nature, amount, length of term, and manner of payment, by considering all relevant factors, including:

  • the relative earning capacity, obligations, needs, and financial resources of each party, including income from pension, profit sharing, or retirement plans,
  • each party’s education and training, and ability and necessity to secure education and training, to improve earnings capacity to a reasonable level,
  • the duration of the marriage,
  • the age, and mental and physical condition of each party,
  • the extent to which it would be undesirable for a party to seek employment outside the home, because such party will be custodian of a minor child of the marriage,
  • the separate assets of each party, and the division of the marital property,
  • the standard of living established during the marriage,
  • each party’s contributions to the marriage (monetary and as homemaker), and to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other party,
  • the relative fault of the parties, and
  • the tax consequences to each party.

Child Custody in Tennessee

A custody determination means figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement, the judge will seek an “arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child,” taking into consideration all relevant factors, including:

  • the location of the residences of the parties,
  • the strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each party,
  • each party’s past and potential performance of parenting responsibilities, including the ability to facilitate a close relationship between the child and the other party,
  • a party’s refusal to attend a court ordered parent education seminar,
  • each party’s disposition to meet the child’s needs and provide necessary care,
  • the degree to which a party has been the primary caregiver,
  • the love, affection, and emotional ties existing between each party and the child,
  • the child’s emotional needs and developmental level,
  • each party’s moral, physical, mental, and emotional fitness to parent the child,
  • the child’s relationships with siblings, relatives and step-relatives, and mentors, and the child’s involvement with physical surroundings, school, or other activities,
  • the importance of stability and continuity in the child’s life, and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment
  • any evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other party, or to any other person,
  • the character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a party, and such person’s interactions with the child,
  • the reasonable preference of the child if 12 years of age or older (although the court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request; and the preference of older children should be given greater weight than those of younger children), and
  • (each party’s employment schedule.

Child Support in Tennessee

Child support is determined by the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines, worksheets, and a child support calculator may be found at the Tennessee Department of Human Services website.

Filing a divorce can be a complex process, but if you and your spouse can agree on the terms of the divorce you may be able to save time. Following these steps will help you get started with your divorce.

If you are considering an uncontested divorce, LegalZoom can help you get the divorce documents you need. We help you fill out the paperwork and check it for completeness and accuracy, and provide step-by-step instructions for filing and completing your divorce.