Filing for Divorce in TN: 8 Things 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. I’ll answer some of the most popular questions asked about Tennessee divorce laws and provide more details about the process.

  1. What are the grounds for divorce in Tennessee?
  2. Is Tennessee a no-fault divorce state?
  3. Do you need an attorney to file for divorce in Tennessee?
  4. How does Tennessee handle divorce with a child?
  5. How is property divided in a Tennessee divorce?
  6. Does it matter who files for divorce first in Tennessee?
  7. What do you do if your spouse won’t sign divorce papers?
  8. How long does it take to get divorced?

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?

According to Tennessee divorce laws, the following are grounds for divorce:

  • Either party at the time of the marriage was/is naturally impotent and incapable of procreation.
  • Either party has gotten married a second time while still married to someone else.
  • Either party has committed adultery.
  • Desertion or abandonment by a party without cause for one whole year.
  • Being convicted of a crime that renders a party infamous.
  • Being convicted of a felony and sentenced to serve time in a penitentiary.
  • Either party has attempted to kill the other party.
  • Refusal by either party without cause to move to Tennessee with their spouse and being absent from Tennessee for 2 years.
  • The woman was pregnant at the time of the marriage by another man without the knowledge of the husband.
  • Either party is habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotics by either party, and the habit was contracted after the marriage.
  • Inappropriate marital conduct.
  • Offering indignities to a spouse and thereby causing a spouse to withdraw.
  • 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.
  • Irreconcilable differences.
  • 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.

What is a no-fault divorce? 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 states there are “irreconcilable differences” within the marriage.

What Does “Irreconcilable Differences” Mean? According to LegalDictionary.net, the following is the definition of irreconcilable differences: “1) differences of opinion or will that cannot be brought into harmony, or 2) a relationship that has become relentlessly hostile.”

If both parties in a marriage agree that there is no way to repair their relationship and preserve the marriage, they have irreconcilable differences and can file for a no-fault divorce. This grounds for divorce can ONLY be used for a no-fault divorce in the state of Tennessee. In other words, the divorce is uncontested and no single party is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

Conversely, 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.

Most common grounds for a fault divorce in Tennessee:

Inappropriate Marital Conduct

The most common reason given for a fault divorce is “inappropriate marital conduct.” What is considered “inappropriate marital conduct” in Tennessee law? This 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.

Adultery by Either Party

What are Tennessee divorce laws about adultery? In Tennessee, the court considers having voluntary sexual intercourse with another person, who is not your spouse, the commitment of adultery. Although you can file for a no-fault divorce in Tennessee, if one member of a married couple commits adultery, the other member can use that as grounds to file for divorce, citing it as a fault contributing to the collapse of their marriage.

This can be used as a means to get alimony or refuse alimony, in a fault divorce. For whatever purpose, proof of adultery will be required for a favorable court ruling. This proof can rely on circumstantial evidence about the willingness and opportunity to cheat with another person and does not have to prove the act of sexual intercourse.

It’s important to note that adultery will only be used to decide the granting of a Fault Divorce and the assignment of alimony. It will not be considered in decisions regarding the division of assets unless substantial funds have been used to support another or otherwise fund the affair itself.

If you find yourself in any of the above situations, you’ll probably have more questions than answers. Call me, Knoxville Attorney Jed McKeehan, for help sorting through the divorce laws in Tennessee. If you need help (or think you might need help soon), call (865) 294-8008.

FAQs About Divorce in Tennessee

Is an Attorney Required in a Tennessee Divorce?

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).

Filing for Divorce in Tennessee With a Child

When one spouse files for divorce from another in a marriage where a child is involved a few things must happen. Each parent attends a four-hour parenting class, they exchange preferences and requirements, and then mediation is held with both parents to try and find a settlement without going to trial. Tennessee courts encourage the development of a Permanent Parenting Plan that will guide decisions related to the child of a divorced couple. The goal of these plans is to move away from determining “custody” and “visitation”, and towards a plan that keeps the best interest of the child at its center. The goal is to find a mutually-agreeable resolution between parties, but if this cannot be found then decisions concerning a minor child will be made in divorce court.

How is Property Divided in a Divorce in Tennessee?

In the state of Tennessee marital property is divided equitably in divorce proceedings. Marital property is generally defined as anything purchased during the years a couple is legally married and can include homes, boats, automobiles, etc.

Does it matter who files for divorce first in Tennessee?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no real advantage to being the spouse who files for divorce first.

What if Spouse Won’t Sign Divorce Papers?

In Tennessee, if a spouse will not sign divorce papers after being served, there are still ways to move forward with the divorce. You can file with the court and await an assigned court date. If your spouse does not show up for that court date, the judge will grant a divorce by default judgment. In this case, the state of Tennessee will determine if the papers have been properly served and there has been ample time for a response (30 days). If these criteria are met, a court date is set where a judge can grant the default divorce. Because both of these options involve appearing in court before a judge, your best bet is to work with an experienced divorce attorney.

How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced?

When people come to see me about divorce, 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.

Knoxville Attorney, Jed McKeehan is available to help you best make it through the confusion that can surround divorce laws in Tennessee. If you need help (or think you might need help soon), call Jed today at (865) 294-8008.