Tennessee divorce laws: What you need to know

Get the facts before proceeding with your next steps.

tennessee bridge

What's Inside

What's Inside

If you’re considering or going through a divorce in Tennessee, it’s important to understand the Tennessee divorce laws. If you’re not a lawyer, that may seem intimidating. No worries, because this article is here to help.

Below we break down the TN divorce process and explain other important information about getting a divorce in Tennessee in language that anyone can grasp. That way you’ll know what to expect and feel a little more prepared for the process.

Grounds for divorce in Tennessee

In Tennessee, if the parties can’t reach a divorce settlement, then grounds for divorce must generally be proved before a divorce can be granted. The grounds for divorce recognized in Tennessee include, but are not limited to:

  • Adultery: When one spouse has sexual intercourse with someone other than their legal spouse.
  • Willful abandonment: When one spouse leaves the other without reasonable cause or justification for a continuous period of one year or more and isn’t planning to return.
  • Cruel and inhuman treatment: When one spouse is subjected to such conduct by the other spouse that continued cohabitation is unsafe and improper. This may also be referred to as inappropriate marital conduct.
  • Indignities: When one spouse is subjected to indignities by the other spouse, which makes it intolerable to continue living together.
  • Felony conviction: When one spouse is convicted of a felony and sentenced to imprisonment for a period of one year or more.
  • Habitual drunkenness or drug abuse: When one spouse is addicted to drugs or alcohol, and the addiction negatively impacts the marriage, so long as the addiction developed after the marriage.

A divorce can also be granted on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences”. In this case, neither party needs to prove fault with the other, so long as all of the following apply:

  • Both spouses agree to the divorce
  • Both spouses have reached an agreement on all terms, including a parenting plan if there are minor children
  • Both spouses sign the marital dissolution agreement
  • The court approves the agreement

It’s also possible to obtain a no-fault divorce if the parties have lived separate and apart for two or more years and they have no minor children. This requires proof of a separation agreement as well as separate residences.

Get the right lawyer for your divorce

Schedule a free 15-min call with our team today

Get Started

Residency requirements to file for divorce in Tennessee

To file for divorce in Tennessee, one of the parties must have lived in the state for a minimum of six months before filing. Additionally, the divorce must be filed in the county where the spouses last lived together or where the defendant spouse currently resides. 

In order for Tennessee courts to have jurisdiction to divide marital assets and debts, both parties must have resided in Tennessee for at least six months, or one party must have resided in the state for six months and the other must consent to jurisdiction. 

Tennessee divorce process

The process for getting a divorce in Tennessee typically involves the following steps:

1. Complete the complaint for divorce

The spouse who wants the divorce (the petitioner or plaintiff) must complete a complaint for divorce, which can be found online or from the court where the divorce will be filed. This form asks for personal information as well as the grounds for divorce and any details regarding property division, child custody and support, and alimony. 

The paperwork required for a divorce filing may differ depending on the county, so contact the clerk of the court where you plan to file to learn which forms need to be completed. Divorcing parties can’t use the forms provided by the court clerk if either the husband or wife own real estate. 

2. File the complaint

File the complaint in the county where you lived at the time of separation, or where your spouse (the respondent) currently resides. If the respondent isn’t a resident of Tennessee or is in prison, the complaint should be filed in the county where the petitioner lives.

The complaint can be filed in the chancery court or the circuit court, depending on the county.

3. Serve the papers

The plaintiff (also known as the “serving spouse”) must serve their spouse with a copy of the divorce petition and the summons. This officially informs them of the divorce proceedings and can be done in one of these ways:

  • By sheriff’s deputy: In certain areas, such as Nashville and Memphis, a sheriff’s deputy or process server can serve the papers. To check if this option is available, contact the clerk of the court or consult with a Tennessee divorce attorney.
  • Through the mail: You can do this for a $20 mailing fee, however, the papers must first be sent to the Secretary of State. You can also serve your spouse via certified mail, as long as your spouse signs the return receipt card and you provide that receipt to the court. 
  • By anyone 18 or older: A summons and complaint can be served by any person 18 or older who isn’t a party to the divorce. This process server must be identified by name and address on the return.
  • Publication: If the serving spouse is unable to locate the receiving spouse, they may publish the divorce papers in a newspaper.
  • Waiver: The receiving spouse can submit a waiver to the court, in which case the papers don’t need to be served. 

4. Waiting period

In Tennessee, there’s a 60-day waiting period from the date of filing for divorce to the date it can be granted if the parties don’t have minor children. If minor children are involved, the period is extended to 90 days.This waiting period gives the parties time to consider their decision and potentially reconcile before the divorce is finalized.

5. Settlement or discovery

Divorce cases often involve settlement negotiations to reach agreements on the terms of the divorce. These negotiations can take place between the spouses alone, with the involvement of their lawyers or with the help of a mediator or other neutral third party.

In some cases, discovery takes place before or during settlement negotiations, while in other cases, it takes place only when negotiations fail.

Discovery is the process of gathering information about the other spouse’s finances, assets and other relevant information. This can include requests for written information, documents and admissions, and must be answered within 30 days. However, it’s common for the parties to exchange discovery documents informally, avoiding the use of the formal legal process.

6. Attend parenting class

Parents of minor children who are going through a divorce in Tennessee are required to attend a four-hour parenting education seminar before their divorce can be finalized. The purpose of this class is to teach parents how to co-parent and support their children after the divorce, with the goal of minimizing the stress on both the parents and their children.

These classes are offered through various providers, and the fee for the class varies from one provider to another. Some providers offer sliding fees based on income. In certain cases, the fee may be waived for parents who qualify.

7. Divorce trial

When the spouses can’t reach a settlement agreement, a court trial is necessary. 

During a divorce trial in Tennessee, the judge hears evidence and testimony from both parties, as well as any witnesses, and makes a decision on the contested issues in the case. These issues include:

  • The granting of a divorce and the grounds for the divorce
  • The designation of the primary residential parent and the schedule of the children’s residence
  • The division of the marital assets and debts
  • The awarding of temporary or permanent alimony
  • The amount of child support to be awarded
  • The awarding of attorney’s fees
  • The allocation of court costs

Once the court has made a decision on all issues, a final decree of divorce is entered by the court, ending the marriage.

Tennessee divorce process outside of the court

In Tennessee, the divorce process can be completed outside of the court through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods such as mediation and collaborative divorce.

Mediation is a legal process where the parties work with a neutral third party (the mediator) to reach an agreement on the terms of the divorce. The mediator helps the parties communicate effectively, identify common ground and find solutions to the issues in dispute.

Collaborative divorce is a process where the parties agree not to take the case to court and instead work together to reach a settlement. Each party has their own lawyer, and the lawyers work together to help the parties reach an agreement on the terms of the divorce.

Both mediation and collaborative divorce are less formal than traditional court proceedings and can be less expensive and time-consuming than going to trial. They also allow the parties more control over the outcome of the divorce, as they are able to reach an agreement that works best for them and their family.

Although these alternative dispute resolution methods can be less adversarial and time-consuming, they may not be suitable for all cases, particularly those involving domestic violence or other high-conflict situations. Further, divorce settlements reached through ADR methods must still be submitted to the appropriate court for approval and the actual granting of the divorce. 

Division of assets and debts in Tennessee

In Tennessee, the division of assets and debts during a divorce is done through a process called equitable distribution. This means that if you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement, the court will divide the marital assets and debts in a fair and reasonable manner. To do this, the court takes into consideration various factors such as the length of the marriage, each party’s income and earning potential, the age and health of the parties and any other factors the court deems relevant.

The court first determines what property and debts are considered marital property and debts. Marital property and debts are those acquired during the marriage and are subject to division by the court. Separate property and debts, which were acquired before the marriage or by gift or inheritance, aren’t subject to division by the court and remain with the party who acquired them.

Note that property and debt division isn’t always equal, and the court may award one party a larger share of the assets or debts if it determines that doing so would be fair and equitable under the circumstances.

Alimony in Tennessee

In Tennessee, alimony (also known as spousal support) is decided by the court on a case-by-case basis. The court considers several factors when determining alimony, including: 

  • The length of the marriage
  • Each spouse’s earning capacity
  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • Each spouse’s age and health
  • Any marital misconduct
  • Whether the spouse who’s supposed to pay alimony has the ability to pay it or the ability to earn the money to pay it

The court determines the duration of the alimony based on the length of the marriage and the factors it considered.

Get the right lawyer for your divorce

Schedule a free 15-min call with our team today

Get Started

Child support in Tennessee

In Tennessee, child support is determined using the state’s child support guidelines. These take into account both parents’ income, the number of children and the amount of time each parent spends with the children. The court calculates the basic child support obligation, which is the amount of support that the noncustodial parent is required to pay to the custodial parent.

The court considers several factors in determining child support, including: 

  • Each parent’s income
  • The number of children
  • The amount of time each parent spends with the children
  • The needs of the children, such as healthcare and educational expenses

The court may also consider other factors, such as the earning capacity of each parent and whether either parent is financially responsible for other children. Once the child support is calculated, the court may order the noncustodial parent to pay the custodial parent directly or through the state’s child support enforcement agency.

Child custody in Tennessee

In Tennessee, child custody is determined based on the best interests of the child. The court considers several factors when determining child custody, including: 

  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • The child’s physical and emotional needs
  • The child’s living arrangements and safety
  • The parents’ ability to provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs
  • The parents’ ability to co-parent and make joint decisions about the child’s welfare
  • Each parent’s willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • The child’s preferences, if the child is at least 12 years old or otherwise deemed mature enough to make an informed decision
  • Any history of abuse or neglect by either parent
  • The child’s school, home and community record

In Tennessee, the court can award joint custody, which means that both parents have legal and physical custody of the child, or it can award sole custody to one parent. Joint custody is preferred in Tennessee, unless it’s determined to not be in the best interest of the child.

Share with

Bottom line

Our experienced team would love to help you move forward. Schedule a free 15-minute call so we can connect you with an experienced attorney.

Book a free call

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

Share with

More resources