Tennessee Divorce Laws

How complicated a divorce is depends on various factors, including the amount of assets a couple has, whether there are children, and how combative the spouses become. Every state has unique laws covering family relations, including Tennessee.

Grounds for Divorce

No-fault divorce is permitted if couples cite "irreconcilable differences," or if they have lived separately for at least two years and have no children. Otherwise, grounds such as bigamy, desertion, attempted murder or adultery must be proved. Six months' residency in the state is required before filing.

Alternatives to Divorce

A legal declaration voiding the marriage, called annulment, is possible in Tennessee, but the state only allows annulment if the marriage was illegal from its inception, such as because of incest, bigamy, or if one party married under duress. Tennessee allows annulment even if the couple has children.

A legal separation is another possibility. Separation settles property settlement and custody issues that are normally resolved through dissolution of a marriage. However, the marriage remains otherwise intact for individuals whose religious beliefs prohibit divorce.

Will You Require Legal Assistance?

Legal representation may not be necessary if couples resolve major issues on their own. An attorney's assistance is essential, however, when addressing situations such as complex property or financial holdings.

Settlement Talks

Many couples negotiate successfully through their attorneys, but a neutral mediator may be needed if parties wish to resolve matters without the stress and expense of a trial. Tennessee does not require mediation, although judges will frequently order sessions to try to facilitate agreement on contentious issues.

Court Orders

Urgent monetary matters or custody and visitation arrangements can be addressed with temporary orders while your divorce is pending. Restraining or protective orders are an option if one spouse is being harassed, harmed or threatened, or if one party fears the other will dispose of marital assets before the divorce is finalized.

Property and Debts

Tennessee divorce requires equitable distribution of property, which means that assets and debts are divided fairly and reasonably based on factors such as the contributions each partner made to the marriage and future earning capacity. Not everything is a marital asset; inheritances and property brought into the marriage are separate property and are not divisible in a divorce.

Custody and Support

Child custody has two components - physical and legal - and these can be joint or sole. Tennessee courts prefer that both parents have ongoing relationships with their children, and only rarely will a parent be denied at least visitation, even if the other parent has sole physical custody.

Child support is determined using both parents' incomes, as well as parenting time with the child. It is calculated using statutory guidelines, although deviations are permitted under extraordinary circumstances. Support obligations incorporate provisions for medical care and child care if it is necessary for employment.

Although custodial time is a consideration when calculating support, visitation is legally distinct from financial issues. A parent who is in arrears on support must still be permitted to see the child. A parent who has trouble collecting support can take legal steps such as requesting that it be withheld from the other parent's pay.

Final Orders

Final orders incorporating alimony, support, custody and name changes officially dissolve the marriage. Tennessee has a 60-day waiting period between filing and the final order for childless couples. This increases to 90 days for couples with children. Final orders regarding property cannot be modified, although one party can return to court and request alterations in support, custody or visitation if circumstances change.

Seeking Legal Assistance

Tennessee marital law is complicated, and this article is intended only as a general overview. A local attorney can provide advice about specific situations.

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