Filing for Divorce in TN: Everything You Need to Know

If someone wants to get a divorce in Tennessee, they have to prove to the court a reason why they should be granted a divorce.

What are the options of “grounds” you can show to the court to get it to grant you a divorce?

Tennessee Code Annotated 36-4-101 lists 15 options that, if proven, can allow you to become divorced.  I will tell you, some of them are pretty out there and do not get brought up any more.  Most people get divorced on the grounds of “inappropriate marital conduct,” because it is the catch-all reason for getting divorced (it can mean anything, including not taking out the trash one time), or “irreconcilable differences” which is the grounds used to divorce people when they come to an agreement prior to an actual trial.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Tennessee?

  1. Either party at the time of the marriage was/is naturally impotent and incapable of procreation.
  2. Either party has gotten married a second time while still married to someone else.
  3. Either party has committed adultery.
  4. Desertion or abandonment by a party without cause for one whole year.
  5. Being convicted of a crime that renders a party infamous.
  6. Being convicted of a felony and sentenced to serve time in a penitentiary.
  7. Either party has attempted to kill the other party.
  8. Refusal by either party without cause to move to Tennessee with their spouse and being absent from Tennessee for 2 years.
  9. The woman was pregnant at the time of the marriage by another man without the knowledge of the husband.
  10. Either party is habitual drunkness or abuse of narcotics by either party and the habit was contracted after the marriage.
  11. Inappropriate marital conduct.
  12. Offering indignities to a spouse and thereby causing a spouse to withdraw.
  13. One spouse has abandoned or turned the other spouse “out of doors,” and has refused to provide for the spouse while being able to do so.
  14. Irreconcilable differences.
  15. For a continuous period of two years or more, the parties have failed to cohabit, and there are no minor children.

Fault and No-Fault Divorces

First, let’s begin with the two grounds of divorce in Tennessee. Tennessee offers both fault and no-fault divorces.

A no-fault ground for divorce means the couple agree to every statement in the petition and are asking the court to approve it. The couple typically state there are “irreconcilable differences” within the marriage. In other words, the divorce is uncontested and no single party is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

A fault ground for divorce is used when the couple cannot agree on things and need to argue the terms and conditions in court. This can include disagreements over property and asset division, custody arrangements, spousal and/or child support, just to name a few.

The most common reason given for a fault divorce is “inappropriate marital conduct,” which is a “catch all” phrase that could include anything, even something as simple as not taking out the trash. People often get worked up over the term because they feel that they are being accused of or blamed for something, but again, it is a generic phrase used in this situation. It literally could mean anything and allows you to argue in front of a court.

I am often asked if you need to hire an attorney for a divorce, even for a no-fault divorce. Technically, you don’t have to have an attorney to file for and secure a divorce, but it is highly recommended. A divorce is a lawsuit and things can quickly get serious if there is not someone there to watch your back and give you advice about what terms you should and shouldn’t agree to (especially when it comes to children).

How Long Does it Take to Get Divorced?

When people come see me to get divorced, one of the questions that I hear the most is, “I want this done as quickly as possible, how long will it take until I’m actually divorced?”

The answer is, “Well, it depends.”

Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated 36-4-101, the absolute quickest that you can get divorced in Tennessee is 60 days after you file the complaint at the courthouse requesting a divorce.

The law says that if you are getting divorced, and you have no children, you cannot get divorced until 60 days after the divorce paperwork is filed.  If you are getting a divorce and you have children under the age of 18, then you must wait 90 days after the paperwork is filed before you are allowed to get divorced.  These time periods are called, “the cooling down period.”  The legislature decided that they preferred that individuals not be allowed to quickly divorce so that they can contemplate and ponder whether getting divorced is actually what they desire to do.

Having said that, those timelines depend on a number of things.  When you file a complaint for divorce, you will not have a divorce trial date until at least 8 or 9 months after you file, at the earliest.  And in a great number of cases, there is discovery, depositions and mediation that need to take place prior to trial, so that trial date can get pushed a number of times so that it can sometimes take years before people get divorced.

The only real way you can get divorced that quickly is if you and the other person reach an agreement before you file for divorce, or you work out an agreement during the period prior to being allowed to divorce.

If you do reach an agreement, you and your attorney can go before the judge after the cooling down period has passed and ask the judge to grant your divorce.  Both people do not have to be there, only one of the parties is needed for this hearing.