Tennessee Divorce

By WomansDivorce Editors

Comprehensive Tennessee divorce information, including an overview of relevant divorce code to help you become familiar with the laws, divorce lawyers to represent you during legal proceedings, the correct forms if you are planning to file your own papers, and resources for calculating child support obligations. There are also organizations offering assistance for domestic abuse and divorce recovery for the state. 

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Tennessee Divorce Laws

Annulment - If the marriage is found to be void due to a violation of public policy or voidable at the discretion of the "victimized" party, an annulment may be granted.

Marriages which violate public policy include marriages between close relatives, bigamous marriages in which a prior marriage has not been dissolved, or homosexual marriages. Voidable marriages occur when a person is between the ages of 16 and 18 and doesn't have a parent or guardian's consent to marry. A marriage may also be voidable if a party lacks the competency to consent to be married due to drunkenness, insanity, or a low IQ.

Residence requirements: If the plaintiff is a resident of Tennessee when the grounds for divorce occurred, a divorce may be granted. If the plaintiff was not a resident of TN when the cause of divorce arose, either spouse must reside in TN for 6 months before a divorce can be filed.

Venue - The petition may be filed in the chancery or circuit court in the county where the couple lives. If a couple has separated, the petition should be filed in the county where the defendant resides. If the defendant is not a Tennessee resident, then the petition is filed in the county where the applicant resides.

Legal separation - Getting a legal separation is an option if you're not ready for the finality of divorce. A legal separation doesn't affect the bonds of matrimony but allows the parties to live apart. A legal separation may address child custody, visitation, support and property issues. Either party can file a petition for an absolute divorce if there has been an order of legal separation for more than two years and the parties have not reconciled. The court granting the divorce shall make a final and complete adjudication of the support and property rights of the parties.

Grounds for divorce from bonds of matrimony - A divorce may be granted in Tennessee for the following causes:

  • Irreconcilable differences
  • Living separate and apart for a minimum of 2 years with no minor children
  • Adultery
  • Willful desertion for at least a year
  • Impotency
  • Bigamy
  • Conviction of a infamous crime
  • Conviction of a felony resulting in confinement in a penitentiary
  • Attempted murder of the other spouse
  • Intentional refusal to move to Tennessee for 2 years, without a valid reason, while the other spouse has resided in the state
  • The wife was pregnant with another man's baby and the husband was unaware of that fact when they married
  • Habitual drunkenness or drug abuse occurring after the marriage
  • Cruel and inhuman treatment rendering cohabitation unsafe or unbearable
  • Spousal neglect or failure to provide for the other spouse while having the ability to do so.

Distribution of marital property - Tennessee is an equitable distribution state, which means that if the couple can't reach a property agreement, a judge will distribute the couple's property in a way that is fair, without marital fault being considered. Marital property includes all assets, property, and debts the couple acquires after the marriage date. Property not divisible in a divorce is considered separate property. Separate property includes assets owned prior to the marriage, assets acquired by gift, bequest, devise or descent, awards for pain and suffering or crime compensation, and property acquired after a legal separation.

Some of the factors the court will consider in making equitable division of marital property are:

  • The duration of the marriage.
  • Each spouse's age, physical and mental health, occupational skills and employability, earning capability, assets and financial liabilities, and financial needs.
  • A spouse's contribution to the education or increased earning power or the other spouse.
  • Each spouse's estate when they married and the value of their separate property.
  • The contributions of each spouse to the acquisition or depreciation of the marital estate, including contributions as a wage earner, homemaker or parent.
  • Each party's economic circumstances after the division of property becomes effective, as well as their ability to obtain income and assets in the future.
  • The amount of social security benefits available to each spouse.
  • Any tax consequences associated with the foreseeable sale of a marital asset.

The court gives special consideration to the spouse who has primary custody of the children in regard to occupying the family home.

Alimony - Alimony may be ordered in a legal separation or divorce in Tennessee based on the financial needs of each spouse and their ability to meet those needs. And the court considers a spouse's contributions to the marriage as a parent or homemaker are of equal importance as economic contributions to the marriage. If a spouse suffers an economic disadvantage for the benefit of the marriage, the court finds that the economically disadvantaged spouse's standard of living after the divorce should be reasonably comparable to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. The court may award:

  • Rehabilitative alimony to allow an economically disadvantaged spouse the time to achieve an earning capacity to be self-supporting;
  • Periodic alimony may be awarded either in addition to rehabilitative alimony, where a spouse may be only partially rehabilitated, or instead of an award of rehabilitative alimony, where rehabilitation is not feasible.
  • Transitional alimony may be awarded when the court finds that rehabilitation isn't necessary, but the disadvantaged spouse needs assistance to adjust to reduced resources resulting from the divorce or legal separation;
  • Alimony in solido, also known as lump sum alimony, is a form of long term support, the total amount of which is calculable on the date the decree is entered, but which is not designated as transitional alimony. Lump sum alimony may be paid in installments if the payments are ordered over a definite period of time and the sum of the alimony to be paid is ascertainable when awarded. The purpose of this form of alimony is to provide financial support to a spouse.

The court may award more than one type of alimony if it's warranted. Alimony may be modified based on the type of alimony awarded, the terms of the court's decree or the terms of the parties' agreement. Generally, alimony will cease upon the death of the paying spouse or the death or remarriage of the recipient. In some situations, cohabitating in a conjugal relationship by the recipient will also terminate alimony.

Parenting seminar for parents of minor children - In all court actions involving minor children in Tennessee, the court may order the parents to attend an educational seminar covering the effects of the dissolution of marriage on their children. The minor children may not attend these seminars.

Child custody - It is generally best for the parents to reach their own arrangements regarding custody and parenting-time issues. If they are unable to come to an agreement, it must be decided by the court. If a child is over the age of 12, the court will take his or her preferences regarding custody into consideration, with greater weight given to the preferences of an older child.

It should be noted that the determination of custody is made without regard to the sex of a parent. The parent with whom the children reside is the "primary residential parent" and the non-custodial parent is the "alternate residential parent". Custody may be modified in the future if there is a material and substance change in circumstances for either parent.

Child support - Tennessee uses the Income Shares Model for calculating support obligations, ensuring that both parents contribute to the support of their children. The amount of child support will depend on how much both parents make, how many minor children there are from the marriage, and child-related expenses such as insurance, medical care, and child care.

The guidelines presume a standard custody arrangement in which the children live with the custodial parent and stay with the non-custodial parent every other weekend, 2 weeks during various holidays, and 2 weeks in the summer. However, the guidelines also account for different parenting situations and allow for adjustments as appropriate. The child support worksheet found at the top of this page will automatically calculate the parenting time adjustment based on the information that is entered on the worksheet.

For child support to be modified there must be a significant change in circumstances which would result in at least a 15% difference between the current support order and a new support order based on the parents current circumstances. Child support usually ceases when the child turns 18 or graduates, but may continue for a disabled child.

Parenting Classes

Mandatory Education Seminar for Divorcing Parents

Most Circuit and Chancery Courts in Tennessee require parents going through a divorce or separation to attend a parenting workshop which focuses on minimizing the negative impact of marital separation on their children. The local Court Clerk will give you information on providers, times and locations of parenting seminars in your area. You can learn more about the different programs, dates, and locations on some programs below:

  • Davidson and Rutherford Counties - Provided by the Family Center TN. Murfreesboro Office - 615-890-4673. Nashville office - 615-333-2644.
  • Hamilton County - Parents must attend the seminar in person, as online parenting courses are not accepted in this jurisdiction. (423) 209-6658
  • Knox County - List of various parenting seminars in the area.
  • Parenting Skills Institute - Offering classes in Nashville, Franklin, Gallatin, Goodlettsville, and Hendersonville. Call (615) 824-8369 or (615) 874-3786 for more information.

Domestic Abuse Resources

TN Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence 

Divorce Support Groups

TN Divorce Groups
The Tennessee Statewide 2-1-1 Resource Network lists the various divorce and separation support groups throughout the state. You can also find services for court-ordered parenting programs and more. 

Or find other area support groups such as Divorce Care, Rainbows and DivorceCare for Kids, as well as domestic violence support.