Getting a Divorce in Tennessee? Divorce Law Cheat Sheet for the State of Tennessee

1. What are the residency requirements for filing for divorce in Tennessee?

A divorce may be granted if the plaintiff or the defendant has resided in Tennessee six months preceding the filing of the complaint. In addition, the action or event that led you to file for divorce must have happened in Tennessee, or you must have been living in Tennessee when the action or event occurred, if it took place outside of Tennessee. You also may file for a divorce in Tennessee if you have been stationed there with the armed services for at least a year.You must file in the county in which you or your spouse lives, or in the county where you and your spouse lived before you separated.

2. Does Tennessee have a waiting period?

Yes. If you and your spouse don’t have any children younger than 18, the court will not hear your case for at least 60 after you file. If you do have children under 18, you will have to wait at least 90 days for a hearing.

A complaint or petition for divorce on any ground for divorce must have been on file for 60 days before being heard if the parties have no unmarried child under 18 years of age, and must have been on file at least 90 days before being heard if the parties have an unmarried child under 18 years of age. The 60 day or 90 day period shall commence on the date the complaint or petition is filed.

3. Does the state have grounds for divorce?

Tennessee allows you to file for a divorce on these grounds:

  • Your spouse was impotent at the time of your marriage and remains so.
  • Your spouse was already married at the time he or she married you.
  • Your spouse committed adultery (the court will not allow this ground if you have been guilty of the same thing; or you knew about it and resumed marital relations anyway; or your spouse was paid for your adultery, as in prostitution; or your spouse put you in a position to commit adultery).
  • Your spouse has been convicted of a crime.
  • Your spouse has tried to kill you.
  • Your spouse refused to move with you to Tennessee and has been absent for at least two years.
  • The wife was pregnant by another person at the time of the marriage without her husband knowing of it.
  • Your spouse started to abuse drugs or alcohol after you were married.
  • Your spouse treats you so cruelly and inhumanely that living with him or her is unsafe.
  • Your spouse has treated you so poorly that you can no longer tolerate the situation.
  • Your spouse has abandoned you or kicked you out, or failed to contribute toward basic necessities.

You also may file on the ground of irreconcilable differences, as long as you and your spouse have a written agreement for the custody and support of your children and a fair settlement of any property rights. If the court doesn’t find that your agreement is sufficient or fair, your case may be continued, or you and your spouse may have to agree to amendments. You may file solely on the ground of irreconcilable differences or in conjunction with one of the other grounds.Finally, you may file for a divorce if you and your spouse have lived apart for at least two years and do not have any children under 18.

4. How does Tennessee determine the division of property?

You and your spouse are encouraged to come up with a settlement on your own and present it to the court. If you can’t agree, the court will divide your property for you.

The court will only divide your marital property. In Tennessee, marital property is anything acquired by you or your spouse during your marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title. This includes any income from or increase in value of your separate property if you or your spouse substantially contributed to the upkeep or appreciation of that property during your marriage (whether as a homemaker, wage earner, parent or in some other way). It includes the value of pensions, stock options and retirement benefits that accrued during your marriage. It also includes workers’ comp benefits or personal injury awards for wages lost during your marriage, reimbursement of medical bills that you paid for with marital property, or compensation for damage to marital property.

Separate property in Tennessee is:

  • All property that you owned before your marriage, including money in an IRA.
  • Property that you received in exchange for property that you acquired before you were married.
  • Any income from or increase in value of your separate property unless there was a substantial contribution by you and your spouse toward generating that income or increase in value during your marriage (see above).
  • Property that you acquired by gift or inheritance.
  • Any awards for pain and suffering, future medical expenses or future lost wages.
  • Property that you acquired after you and your spouse legally separated, if the court made a final division of property at that time.

The court will divide your property in whatever way it considers most equitable, or fair, regardless of who was at fault in your divorce. To determine what is fair, the court will take into consideration:

  • How long you were married.
  • You and your spouse’s ages and physical and mental health.
  • You and your spouse’s skills, employability and earning capacities.
  • You and your spouse’s estate, debts and needs.
  • Any contribution that one of you made to the education, training or increased earning power of the other.
  • You and your spouse’s abilities to earn future assets and income.
  • The contributions each of you made toward the acquisition, care for, appreciation of or depreciation of your marital or separate property, with the contributions of a homemaker and a wage earner given equal weight.
  • The value of you and your spouse’s separate property.
  • You and your spouse’s estates at the time that you were married.
  • The economic circumstances you each will face after your property is divided.
  • The tax situation you each will face as a result of your division of property.
  • The amount of Social Security benefits available to you and your spouse.
  • Any prenuptial agreement between you and your spouse.
  • Any other factors the court considers relevant.

In awarding your family home or the right to live in it, the court may give special consideration to the parent who has physical custody of your child.

5. Does Tennessee require mediation before a divorce is granted?

The court in Tennessee may require you and your spouse to complete mediation and have a report on file with the court within 180 days of filing. Tennessee also often requires mediation when parents disagree over a parenting plan (unless there is evidence of domestic abuse by you or your spouse).

6. How does the state determine child custody?

Legal custody and physical custody are two different things. Legal custody outlines how involved each parent is in the major decisions of a child’s life — ”where a child goes to school, what faith he or she is raised in and other biggies. Physical custody addresses where a child will live and with whom. Visitation is then negotiated based your physical custody arrangement.

Before the court grants you a divorce, you must have a parenting plan. Your parenting plan must address, at a minimum:

  • Your child’s changing needs as he or she gets older, so that there are few reasons to modify the plan later.
  • Which parent has what authority and responsibility for your child.
  • Ways to minimize your child’s exposure to conflict between you and your spouse.
  • A process for resolving disputes between you and your spouse without court action.
  • How you will divide or share decision-making responsibilities regarding your child’s education, health care, extracurricular activities and religious upbringing.
  • the right of a parent to make day-to-day decisions for your child while he or she is living with that parent.
  • Annual reports by the parent paying support regarding his or her income.
  • How a parent who does not have a drivers’ license or has lost his or her license will make arrangements for your child’s transportation.
  • A schedule of where your child will live and when.

If you and your spouse can’t agree on a parenting plan, the court may order you to mediation. If you still disagree 45 days before your trial date, you each must file your own parenting plan, even though you might still be in mediation. If you don’t submit a plan, the court may adopt the plan submitted by your spouse, as long as it’s in the best interest of your child.

The court also may require you and your spouse to attend a parent education seminar on the effects of divorce on your child.Along with your parenting plan, you have to submit a verified statement of income for child support and a verified statement that the plan is in the best interest of your child.

The court will approve your agreement if it finds that:

  • The agreement is consistent with the law in terms of parents’ decision-making authority.
  • You made the agreement voluntarily.
  • The agreement is in the best interest of your child.

If the court has to allocate decision-making authority between you and your spouse, it will consider the following factors:

  • You and your spouse’s past participation in decision-making regarding your child’s physical care, emotional stability, intellectual and moral development, health, education, extracurricular activities and religion.
  • Whether you each have demonstrated the ability and willingness to cooperate in future decisions regarding these areas.
  • Whether you each attended a court-ordered parent education seminar.
  • You and your spouse’s geographic proximity to one another if affects your ability to make timely decisions together.

When evaluating the schedule of where your child will live, the court will take into account these specific factors:

  • You and your spouse’s abilities to teach and encourage your child to function successfully in society as an adult.
  • The strength and stability of your child’s relationship with each of you, and whether one of you has taken more responsibility for your child’s daily needs.
  • You and your spouse’s abilities to encourage a close relationship between your child and the other parent.
  • Whether you or your spouse has refused to take part in a court-ordered parent education seminar.
  • You and your spouse’s abilities to provide food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care for your child.
  • The extent to which either of you has been the primary caregiver for your child.
  • The love and affection between your child and each of you.
  • Your child’s emotional needs and developmental level.
  • You and your spouse’s characters and physical and emotional fitness as parents.
  • Your child’s relationships with his or her siblings and other adults significant in his or her life, as well as your child’s involvement in school and other activities.
  • The importance of continuity in your child’s life, and how long he or she has lived in a stable environment.
  • Any evidence of physical or emotional abuse by you or your spouse.
  • The character and behavior of any other adults who live in or spend a lot of time at your home or your spouse’s.
  • Your child’s wishes, if he or she is 12 or older (the court may consider younger children’s preferences upon request).
  • You and your spouse’s work schedules.
  • Any other factor the court thinks is relevant.

The court also may consider awarding visitation to your child’s stepparent or grandparents, if your child has had a significant relationship with them, and it is in your child’s best interest.

7. How does the state calculate child support?

Tennessee uses a set of state guidelines to determine child support, based on you and your spouse’s combined adjusted gross income and the number of children you have. The basic support amount is divided between you and your spouse in the same ratio as your individual adjusted gross income is to you and your spouse’s combined income total.

The cost of your child’s health insurance, uninsured medical expenses and work-related child care are included in the calculation of the support order. The actual expenses are divided according to each parent’s percentage of your combined income and accounted for in each parent’s share of the support obligation.

Your child support obligations will be adjusted if you or your spouse is responsible for supporting other children. It also might be adjusted based on your visitation arrangements:

In a standard parenting arrangement, the primary residential parent is the one with whom your child spends more than 50 percent of his or her time. Fifty-fifty parenting means your child spends exactly 50 percent of the year (182.5 days) with each of you.
If you have more than one child, you may have split parenting, in which you and your spouse each are the primary residential parent to one or more of your children.

Your child support obligation also might be adjusted for educational expenses for private or special schooling or extracurricular activities such as sports or music, when any of those expenses exceed 7 percent of the basic child support obligation.

8. How does the state determine and calculate alimony?

Alimony is not a given in a divorce case, but you or your spouse may ask the court for it. The court may consider several types of alimony: rehabilitative alimony; periodic alimony; transitional alimony; lump-sum alimony; or a combination of these.

Rehabilitative alimony is designed to help you achieve a standard of living reasonably close to what you had while you were married. You have to demonstrate an effort to reach this standard of living on your own while you’re receiving support. Rehabilitative alimony ends upon the death of you or your spouse.

Periodic alimony is support on a long-term basis or until your death or remarriage. This alimony may be awarded when the court finds that you are at an economic disadvantage and rehabilitation is not feasible — “you can’t achieve, with reasonable effort, an earning capacity that would offer a standard of living close to what you had while you were married. Periodic alimony ends upon the death of you or your spouse or your remarriage.

Transitional alimony is awarded to help you adjust to your new economic circumstances after your divorce. It’s a sum of money for a set period of time. Transitional alimony ends upon the death of you or your spouse. It also ends if you are living with someone — the court assumes that the other person is helping share expenses with you. And it may end if you remarry, depending on the conditions the court includes in your case.

Lump sum alimony is a form of long-term support. The total amount is calculated on the date your decree is entered, but it’s not designated as transitional alimony. The purpose of this form of alimony is to provide financial support to a spouse. It does not end upon death or remarriage.

In determining whether to award alimony and, if so, what kind and how much, the court will consider these specific factors:

  • You and your spouse’s earning capacities, debts, needs and financial resources, including income from pensions or retirement plans.
  • You and your spouse’s levels of education, what training or education you might need to improve your earning capacity, and your opportunities to get that training or education.
  • How long you were married.
  • You and your spouse’s ages and mental and physical conditions, including any chronic diseases.
  • Whether one of you is unable to work outside the home because you are the custodian of your young child.
  • You and your spouse’s separate assets.
  • How your marital property was divided.
  • The standard of living you established during your marriage.
  • The contributions you each made toward your marriage, whether monetary or as a homemaker, and any support you offered to improve the education or earning capacity of your spouse.
  • Who was at fault in your divorce, if the court considers it relevant.
  • Your tax situations if alimony is awarded.
  • Any other factors the court considers relevant.

9. Is there a waiting period before remarriage in Tennessee?

No, you are free to remarry after the court delivers the final judgment ending your marriage.


Tennessee’s state statutes are online,here

You’ll find the state’s child support guidelines and worksheets online, here.