Tennessee Divorce FAQs

Learn the rules for getting a divorce in Tennessee.

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Find the answers below to some common questions about getting a divorce in Tennessee. (For more information on Tennessee family law, see the information and resources on our Tennessee page.)

How long do I have to live in Tennessee before I can get a divorce here?

Generally speaking, you have to be domiciled in Tennessee at least six months before you can file for divorce. If you are the victim of abuse or there is some other emergency, you may be able to file immediately.

If I moved out of the marital home to another state, where do I file?

You must be a resident of Tennessee for six months to file for divorce here. You may file in the county where you or your spouse live. If you have moved from another state recently, discuss your options with your attorney. You may have to file in Tennessee. This is an important decision.

What if my spouse lives in another state?

That makes your case more complicated. An attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons of filing in Tennessee or in the state where your spouse lives. If the court in Tennessee does not have jurisdiction, you may be wasting your time and money if you file here. First, you need to "serve" divorce papers on your spouse out of state. "Serving papers" means giving official notice.

How do I serve papers on my spouse? 

A sheriff or a process server in your spouse's home state may serve process. You may also send copies by certified mail to your spouse's residence or, if you don't know where your spouse is, publish a legal notice in a newspaper selected by the court.

How much does it cost to serve process? 

That depends on how much the local sheriff or private process server charges, but usually fees are under $75. Publishing a legal notice can be more expensive, however. Depending on the newspaper, you can spend $100 or more.

Do my spouse and I need lawyers if we agree on everything? 

Technically, no. But as a practical matter, it might be a good idea. An experienced family lawyer will still need to draft your agreement to make sure everything is done correctly. A divorce is a lawsuit. Remember, there is no such thing as a standard divorce. There are so many issues to be considered that it makes sense to have a lawyer with an ethical duty to explain things and represent only your best interests. Very few lawyers will represent both parties because of the potential for a conflict of interest.

What is a conflict of interest?

A conflict of interest happens when an attorney's duty to his or her client is compromised. An attorney who represents both spouses in a divorce might face such a conflict if a benefit to one spouse would be a detriment to the other. If one lawyer represents both spouses, the lawyer cannot advise either of them in negotiating for better settlement terms.

What are the grounds for divorce in Tennessee?

Tennessee law allows divorce on either fault or no-fault grounds. The no-fault grounds for divorce are:

  • irreconcilable differences, and
  • living in separate residences, and not cohabiting as spouses, for at least two years (this ground applies only if the couple has no children). 

The fault grounds for divorce are:

  • either spouse, at the time of the marriage, was and still is naturally impotent and incapable of procreation
  • either party has knowingly entered into a second marriage, in violation of a previous marriage that has not ended
  • either spouse has committed adultery
  • either spouse has willfully or maliciously deserted or left the other, without a reasonable cause, for one year
  • either spouse has been convicted of a crime which, by the laws of the state, renders the party infamous
  • either spouse has committed a felony and been sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary
  • either spouse has attempted to take the life of the other, by poison or any other means showing malice
  • either spouse has refused to remove with that person's spouse to this state, without a reasonable cause, and has been willfully absent from the spouse residing in Tennessee for two years
  • the wife was pregnant at the time of the marriage, by another person, without the knowledge of the husband
  • habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotic drugs by either spouse, when the spouse has contracted such habit after marriage
  • either spouse is guilty of such cruel and inhuman treatment or conduct towards the spouse as renders cohabitation unsafe and improper, which may also be referred to in pleadings as inappropriate marital conduct
  • either spouse has offered such indignities to the other spouse's person as to render the other spouse's condition intolerable, and thereby forced the other spouse to withdraw, or
  • either spouse has abandoned the other, or turned the other out of doors, and refused or neglected to provide for the other while having the ability to do so.

How long does a divorce take?

A mutual-consent, no-fault divorce takes about two to six months. There is a mandatory 60 day "cooling -off" period after the complaint is filed, if there are no children. If the couple has children, it takes a minimum of 90 days. A contested divorce can last years, with the average case lasting a year or more. Finally, if the spouses agree to divide a pension, it might take an additional 60 to 180 days after the divorce is granted to complete the division.

Can I get an annulment?

Rarely. Annulments may be available if the marriage was illegal (for example, incestuous) or based on fraud or duress. An annulment can also be had if one party was under age. The rules and applications can be complex. The effect of annulment will not render the couple's children illegitimate. No alimony is available when a marriage is annulled. Property rights will be restored as if no marriage had taken place.

What is a legal separation?

In effect, a legal separation allows for the support and maintenance of a spouse without an actual divorce. The parties can sue for divorce later. Separation often doesn't make sense because it can be as expensive as a divorce. In addition, if the parties work out their differences after a divorce, the parties can always remarry. 

Is there a right to a jury trial in a divorce case?

No. If the case goes to trial, the judge will make the final determinations.

What about mediation?

Mediators usually recommend that the parties review a settlement with independent counsel before signing. Mediation is most beneficial with custody and visitation issues, because the spouses will have to maintain an ongoing constructive relationship to successfully parent their children. Mediation works best when the parties come to the table in good faith and fully disclose their assets and debts. 

Can I change my last name at the time of divorce?

Yes. The only limitation is that a person cannot change names to perpetrate a fraud. It's common for divorcing spouses to change from their married last name to the name they used when they were single. 

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