A Guide to Divorce in Tennessee
Going through a divorce can be intimidating, and the best way to counter this is by arming yourself with important information you’ll need as you work through the process. This guide will help you understand some of the common financial, social and emotional challenges you’ll face along the way.
In addition to reviewing this guide, you should seek out support and information from several sources such as attorneys, online, your county courthouse, friends and relatives who have already gone through divorce, and others who may provide you with what you need to make the best of your situation.
Here are the most important things to know when getting a divorce in Tennessee:
- The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
- What are the grounds for divorce in Tennessee?
- Deciding what kind of divorce is right for you
- The process of filing for divorce
- How to complete proof of service
- Filing for divorce in Tennessee without using a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost in Tennessee?
- How long does it take to get a divorce?
- Should I retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
- Bifurcation of Marital Status in Tennessee
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Tennessee?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is proof of divorce?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources
The differences between divorce, annulment and legal separation (limited divorce)
Married couples can end their marriages in Tennessee either by a divorce or annulment.
Each of these has their own special requirements and rules, and a basic understanding of these options is a good place for you to start.
When a marriage is no longer working legal separation means that couples are able to reach agreement on a division of assets, child custody and support, alimony and other important issues, without having to go through a divorce.
It should be noted that legal separation (or a limited divorce) does not always lead to a full divorce. In fact, these actions may be a much-needed time out that allows two people to try and resolve their issues in a less intense environment. Stepping away can often times bring added perspective about what a couple will lose in a marriage and possibly give them time to heal from the issues that caused their marriage to come under stress.
However, a legal separation can change to an absolute divorce if either spouse requests it.
There are also financial benefits as well, such as being able to keep health insurance, or by continuing to file as a married couple on tax returns. Also, when a couple is legally separated, each person is responsible for their own financial decisions and is not responsible for those the other person makes.
If a person is not a U.S. citizen and they get a divorce, they run the risk of deportation. But with a legal separation, a noncitizen can still stay in the country even if they don’t live with their spouse.
If you can prove your marriage is fraudulent or invalid in Tennessee, you may be able to seek an annulment. When a couple is granted an annulment, their marriage is considered null and void. Basically, this means that both people can move forward with their lives as if their marriage never happened.
The following legal grounds can be used to annul a marriage in Tennessee:
- Underage Spouse. One or both spouses were not the legal age to be married
- Spouses are related
- A spouse has another living husband or wife at the time of marriage
- A spouse was mentally unstable or incapable of understanding the nature of marriage
- A spouse was coerced into the marriage
- A spouse is physically unable to have sexual intercourse
- One spouse was deceived into the marriage
- Denial of Marital Rights. A spouse refuses to live with the other spouse or have sexual relations during the marriage
Divorce is permanent and straightforward and assuming all requirements are met, the couple will divide assets, resolve child custody and support issues, and other related concerns. Ultimately the courts must agree to issue a final decree that permanently and legally separates the couple.
What are the grounds for divorce in Tennessee?
Tennessee is both a no-fault and fault-based state when it comes to divorce. An uncontested divorce means that all one party must do is cite irreconcilable differences. In a contested divorce, proof of grounds must be provided. The grounds for a contested divorce in Tennessee are:
- Habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotic drugs
- Living apart for two years with no minor children
- Inappropriate marital conduct
- Willful or malicious desertion for one full year without a reasonable cause
- Conviction of a felony
- Pregnancy of the wife by another before the marriage without the husband’s knowledge
- Refusal to move to Tennessee with your spouse and living apart for two year
- Malicious attempt upon the life of another;
- Lack of reconciliation for two years after the entry of a decree of separate maintenance
- Impotency and sterility
- Abandonment or refusal or neglecting to provide for spouse although able to do so.
Understanding what your divorce options are
Understanding the different divorce process options is a critical first step in moving forward. In fact, after the decision to divorce, your choice of how you will get divorced is the most important decision you will make.
So, what are your divorce options?
Let’s go through them:
Do-It-Yourself Divorce: What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
Online Divorce: A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
Litigation: The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.
Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
Mediation: With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
Collaborative Divorce: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions. That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist.
Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
Before you go on and choose a type of divorce, it’s important to remember something:
Divorce is anything but cookie cutter. That means there isn’t a “best” option across the board – but there is a best option for you. Keep this in mind as you choose, and understand that each option has its own merits.
The process of filing for divorce in Tennessee
Here are the basic steps you’ll need to take to file for divorce in Tennessee:
Gather important information
Save time, money and stress in your divorce by approaching this step in a timely and thorough way. It will take time to pull together your information, but it is vital that you do this without cutting corners. It’s the best way to make sure your rights are protected and to give yourself the possibility of achieving the best possible financial settlement with your spouse.
Starting early and being organized are keys to successfully completing this task.
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
This is only a partial list. To learn everything you need to know and to see the complete list, check out our article: The Ultimate Divorce Checklist: The Information You Need to Prepare for Divorce.
Complete your paperwork
To officially start your divorce, you will need to file several forms in Tennessee. The state has divorce forms that were approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court as “universally acceptable and legally sufficient” meaning that when they are filled out correctly, all Tennessee courts that hear divorce cases must accept the forms.
You can find the appropriate forms to use for an Agreed Divorce, meaning that the divorce will not be contested, by going here.
You must meet all of the following terms, otherwise you will probably need to retain the services of a lawyer to assist you with your divorce:
- One or both of you lived in Tennessee for at least the past 6 months or you both lived in Tennessee when you decided to divorce
- You and your spouse have no children together who are under 18, in high school, or are disabled. Children together means children you had together that were born before your marriage and any born or adopted during your marriage.
- Neither spouse is not pregnant
- You both want to end your marriage
- You don’t own buildings or land or a business together or have retirement benefits and you can agree on alimony and how to divide your property and will both sign a Divorce Agreement
File your forms
After completing the appropriate forms, you will need to file them with the Court Clerk in your county.
You must pay the appropriate fees at the time you file. If you and your spouse cannot afford to pay the filing fees, you may request a waiver.
How to complete proof of service
After you file your forms with the court, you must also provide your spouse with those forms so that they can have a chance to respond. When you file your papers, the court clerk will issue a summons that you will take to the local sheriff’s office or a process server. You will need to provide information about where to find your spouse at that time, including a home or work address so that your spouse can be personally served.
Filing for divorce in Tennessee without using a lawyer
You always have the option for filing for divorce on your own without using a lawyer. This works best when you have an uncontested divorce and agree on all the issues with your spouse.
You need a lawyer if:
- You find the court papers hard to understand
- You or your spouse has an IRS qualified pension or retirement plan
- You or your spouse own buildings or land
- You or your spouse own a business
- Your spouse won’t sign the Divorce Agreement
- Your spouse has a lawyer
- You have questions about your divorce. The court can’t give you legal advice
- You don’t know how to locate your spouse
- Your spouse over controls you or makes you afraid to disagree or there is domestic violence.
How much does divorce cost?
Depending on the county where you file, the filing fee could range from $100 to $500.
If you need to retain an experienced divorce attorney, expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $500 per hour. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer up front to start the process. If you decide to use a mediator or an arbitrator, expect your costs to be somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000, and possibly more.
When you are seeking outside help, one of the important issues you need to discuss during the vetting process is what all anticipated costs will be. You should be given an itemized list that will help you start to figure out costs of the actual divorce process.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Tennessee?
If spouses have minor children a divorce cannot be granted in Tennessee for at least 90 days as part of a “cooling off” period after the Complaint for Divorce is filed. If there are no minor children, a divorce can be granted 60 days after the Complaint for Divorce is filed.
In contested divorces, especially those where there are many debts or assets to unwind, or if there are major child custody challenges to negotiate, a divorce may take as long as one to two years to complete.
The only other consideration is a residency requirement. A divorce may be granted in Tennessee only if the plaintiff or the defendant has lived in the state for at least six months preceding the filing of the Complaint for Divorce.
Should I work with a certified divorce financial analyst?
If you are going through a financially complicated divorce, you may need someone who can assist you with an accurate and objective analysis of the financial and tax implications of your decisions.
This will help you make the right decisions now when it comes to reaching a settlement with your spouse. It’s important to get this right from the start – you won’t get a second chance.
While some people with simple situations may only need a family law attorney to help them with this process, many others will benefit from working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
Bifurcation of marital status in Tennessee
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally declared as a single person while the other issues in their divorce are still being worked out. It does not affect things such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or become major sticking points that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.
In Tennessee, bifurcation is allowed in some instances. The court can refuse to bifurcate the issues if it believes doing so will create inefficiency and additional unreasonable costs and expenses both to the parties and to the court.
Bifurcation is generally granted when spouses are not able to reach reasonable solutions and time is of the essence, or there are other legitimate necessary reasons as to why all of the issues cannot be resolved at the hearing.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Tennessee?
In all cases, you cannot stop someone from divorcing you if that’s what they want to do.
If you’re the spouse who filed for the divorce, you can probably stop the process, especially if it is early in the proceedings. Remember, Tennessee has a 60-day cooling off period for just this circumstance. You will need to go to the courthouse and complete a simple form that states you are dismissing or withdrawing your complaint.
What is a divorce decree?
The Final Decree of Divorce is court’s order that terminates a marriage.
A Final Decree provides a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. It also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues. It is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the document, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.
What is proof of divorce?
After a final divorce decree is granted, Tennessee will issue a Certificate of Divorce and place it on file in the Tennessee Division of Vital Records. This is not a copy of the final decree. It only shows minimal information, such as the names of both spouses and the date and place a divorce was granted.
A Certificate of Divorce can provide proof of divorce for many legal purposes such as when a person wants to change the name on any state issued documents, or as proof that the person legally has the right to get married again.
Changing Your Name
When preparing your divorce forms, you will be presented either an option to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or else have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Either of these documents are accepted with all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
It’s time-consuming to contact each company and figure out what to send where, so we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to cut out the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.
Recommended Divorce Resources
There are a lot of divorce resources that make big claims. We’ve tested a bunch of them. Most fall short. A few stand above the rest.
These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- And a whole lot more