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Home » Nashville Divorce Attorneys | Tennessee Divorce Law | Turner Law » Tennessee Divorce: Frequently Asked Questions

Tennessee Divorce: Frequently Asked Questions

Tennessee Divorce FAQsShould I hire a Tennessee divorce lawyer for my divorce case?

Absolutely! Tennessee divorce law does not require that a spouse hire an attorney for divorce cases. Tennessee law also does not require you to be a surgeon to operate on yourself.   You would not take out a knife and start cutting yourself; why would you think that it is a good idea to represent yourself in a divorce case? Tennessee divorce lawyers are required to have a four (4) year college degree, and a three (3) year doctorate degree in jurisprudence. Additionally, Tennessee divorce attorneys are required to have fifteen (15) hours of continuing legal education a year to stay on top of the current Tennessee divorce laws and changes in Tennessee divorce law. In spite of this, some people undertake to represent themselves, and become increasingly frustrated in the obstacles they face at every turn. The fundamental mistake people who try to represent themselves make is that they do not understand that the court system is an adversarial system, and the judge is the umpire. The judge has to remain neutral and impartial; the judge is prohibited by the Judicial Cannons of Ethics from giving legal advice to parties in a divorce case. Nevertheless, people who file their own divorces find that their case just sits there because they have absolutely NO idea what to do next. Some people even think they are divorced merely because they have filed for divorce and no one has contacted them; they are sorely mistaken when a year later, they receive a Notice of Dismissal of their divorce from the clerk because they have not finalized the divorce case. Having a competent Tennessee divorce lawyer is critical to getting a divorce without a lot of angst and frustration. If you have a lot of assets, debts, retirement and/or children , having a divorce lawyer is critical because a lot is at stake and a non-lawyer stands a good chance of screwing it up beyond repair!  Finally, when people undertake to represent themselves and subsequently have to hire a Tennessee divorce attorney, the legal fees are often substantially higher than if a lawyer was hired initially because he has to go back and clean up the mess.

How much money will the divorce process cost?

 There are three main things to consider when calculating how much your divorce will cost: 1) your spouse’s attorney, 2) the judge appointed to your case, and 3) your spouse’s reaction to the divorce process. The cost of divorce in Tennessee can vary considerably based on the above factors. Remember, you want to hire the best divorce lawyer in Tennessee; your lawyer is going to take care of you, but he cannot control the other side of the case. There are some Tennessee divorce lawyers who are litigious by nature, and will insist on filing a motion and going to court when it would be much cheaper and quicker for the parties to agree. Other divorce attorneys tend to over-litigate cases, meaning that they will incur significant attorney fees when the facts of the case do not justify high attorney fees. No matter how good your attorney is, if the other side’s attorney is not cooperating or doesn’t seem to be working toward an amicable resolution of the case, the cost of divorce will be considerable. The judge assigned to the case can make short shrift of divorce cases with little to no assets when one spouse insists on fighting. Some judges will, at a pendente lite hearing, enter a scheduling order and set a very short deadline to get the case resolved or set the case for trial. Finally, if you have an angry spouse, be prepared to pay a lot of money in attorney’s fees! A bitter spouse can vindictively spend all the assets of the marital estate in attorney’s fees. It is often in the best interest of both parties to put all hostilities aside and work together to come to an agreement to prevent spending everything you earn on attorney’s fees. A quick reflection on these factors will help you determine whether your case will be costly or inexpensive.

Is there a waiting period for divorce in Tennessee?

No. Tennessee law does not require a waiting period before filing for divorce. A divorce can be filed at any point in a marriage provided that one of the spouses is a legal resident of Tennessee for the requisite period of time, i.e. six (6) months. You do NOT have to be separated from your spouse for a period of time before filing for divorce.

How long do I have to be a Tennessee resident before I can file for divorce?

Tennessee courts have jurisdiction to grant divorces to those who can prove residence in Tennessee for at least six (6) months prior to filing for a divorce.

My spouse won’t sign the papers! Now what?

If there are disagreements between spouses and they are unable to come to an agreement to all terms of the Martial Dissolution Agreement (MDA) and Permanent Parenting Plan (PPP), if there are minor children, then you can get a divorce based on fault grounds. This is called a contested divorce, and is much more costly than an agreed upon irreconcilable differences divorce.

How will my divorce complaint be served?

In an uncontested divorce, there is no service of the complaint because a spouse can consent to service of process, and execute a waiver of service of process. Signing a Marital Dissolution Agreement (MDA) in an uncontested divorce is a waiver of service of process. In contested cases, the Summons and Complaint for Divorce has to be served on your spouse, and can be effected in the following manner:

  • Certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested;
  • Sheriff’s deputy; or
  • Private process server.

The choice of service depends on how difficult your spouse is being, and whether he or she is attempting to evade service. If you do not know where your spouse is, then you can serve him/her by publication.

How do I get a legal separation from my spouse?

If you and your spouse are living separate and apart, even sleeping in separate bedrooms, you are legally separated under Tennessee divorce law. There is no court filing or proceeding required for you to be legally separated. However, there is a Legal Separation Action that is often confused with being legally separated.

How long does the divorce process take in Tennessee?

If the divorce is agreed to, i.e. irreconcilable differences, the final divorce can be granted by a judge after the expiration of the mandatory waiting period. If no children are involved, then a divorce can be granted after sixty (60) days. If a divorcing couple has minor children, a divorce can be granted after ninety (90) days. On the other hand, if you and your spouse are fighting like cats and dogs, your divorce can drag out for years before it is finalized. Most good divorce lawyers are on top of their cases and aim to have the case finalized within one (1) year from the date of filing, give or take a few months. More complicated divorces, i.e. high asset divorces, custody disputes, etc. will take longer because a lot more work is required.

Is a court appearance required in Tennessee?

Yes, in most jurisdictions. Even an uncontested divorce requires a court appearance so that the judge can make a determination that 1) the Marital Dissolution Agreement (MDA) is fair and equitable, and 2) if there are minor children, that the Permanent Parenting Plan (PPP) is in the best interest of the minor children and child support is set in accordance with the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines. If there is a filed MDA and PPP, only one of the spouses, the one who filed the divorce, will have to attend the final hearing.

What are grounds for divorce for divorcing a spouse under Tennessee Divorce Law?

If a couple is filing for divorce because they have “irreconcilable differences,” Tennessee courts will typically classify their case as “uncontested.” The alternative to an “uncontested divorce’ is a “contested” divorce”. Oftentimes, a case can be filed with grounds, and can be resolved on irreconcilable differences after negotiating a Martial Dissolution Agreement and Permanent Parenting Plan (if the parties have children).

Grounds for contested divorce in Tennessee include the following:

  • Adultery and infidelity;
  • Habitual drunkedness/drug usage, i.e. frequent intoxication under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
  • Two years separation (only for cases not involving minor children);
  • Committing felonies;
  • Inappropriate marital conduct, i.e. unacceptable behavior during marriage;
  • Pre-marital conception of a child without the spouse’s knowledge;
  • Violent assault or attempt to kill the other spouse;
  • Refusal to move to Tennessee with the spouse;
  • Abandonment and failure to provide, i.e. intentional and unreasonable desertion for an entire year;
  • Failure to support a spouse despite being financially capable;
  • Inability to reconcile marriage after two years of separate maintenance;
  • If a spouse is sterile or impotent.

Does Tennessee Divorce Law consider marital fault when awarding a divorce?

Yes . If a spouse refuses to give the other spouse an irreconcilable divorce, the other spouse must file for divorce and allege grounds for divorce, i.e. marital fault. Marital fault or grounds for divorce are somewhat irrelevant today under Tennessee divorce law in that division of martial property and debt is without regard to marital fault! Marital fault is merely one criteria a court considers in awarding alimony or spousal support.

How does separate maintenance, spousal support, or alimony, work in Tennessee?

Tennessee divorce law uses the term “alimony.” Courts award alimony based on the following criteria:

  • How long the marriage lasted;
  • How old, and how mentally and physical stable, is either spouse;
  • Each spouse’s income and/or projected earnings;
  • Each spouse’s assets, debts, and economic resources (pension income, plans for retirement, and profit sharing would be included), both separate and marital;
  • Each spouse’s education and vocational experience: past, present, and future (including any education or training necessary to reasonably accommodate those with less resources);
  • The physiological condition of either spouse, as well as any handicaps related to injury or illness
  • Whether it’s reasonable for primary residential parent, if there are children, to seek work out of the home;
  • Likelihood of either spouse being subject to a lesser standard of living after the divorce;
  • Each spouse’s efforts to contribute to marital assets (both tangible and intangible);
  • The marital fault of either or both spouses;
  • Tax considerations, as well as any undesirable results related to tax issues.

When I get a divorce, can I legally change my name?

Yes. A spouse is permitted to change her name upon the entering of the divorce decree to her maiden name or previous married name. In fact, many people find this time convenient for changing their names. Make sure that you tell your Tennessee divorce lawyer that you want your previous name restored prior to finalizing your divorce. If you do not timely tell your lawyer you want your name back, you will incur a lot of additional expense and attorney’s fees having to do it later.

Can I get an annulment under Tennessee divorce law?

An annulment is a very significant legal event; it is treating the marriage as if it never happened. Under very limited circumstances, a marriage may be annulled or voided. “Voidable” marriages refer to marriages that may be annulled for various reasons. The most common bases for an annulment in Tennessee are the following:

  • Under age parties;
  • Lack of capacity;
  • Lack of consent
  • Forced marriages;
  • Sterility or impotence of a spouse
  • Fraudulent wedding proceedings
  • Undisclosed impregnation by another person
  • Failure to consummate a marriage.

My spouse and I are separated; can I date and see other people?

No. You are MARRIED until a judge declares you divorced. Even though you and your spouse may be separated, you cannot date or see other people; doing so will give your spouse grounds for divorce based on adultery or inappropriate marital conduct. The best advice is not to move on to your next relationship until you have legally terminated your existing relationship. This includes your desire to “get back out there” by setting up internet accounts on dating sites. Not only are you risking your entire divorce case, but it will likely anger your spouse, leading to much higher legal bills.

Does Tennessee recognize common law marriages?

No. Common law marriages are not legal, valid nor recognized in Tennessee. Common law marriage is where couples live with each other and hold themselves out to the public as husband and wife. In Tennessee, these couples must still go through proper marital proceedings to be legally married. On the other hand, Tennessee does recognize common law marriages that occur in sister states that recognize common law marriages. If Tennessee recognizes a common law marriage of another state, then Tennessee has the ability to grant a divorce to that common law marriage.

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