Every state has its own rules and procedures for filing a divorce. Here's what you need to know to get started with your Tennessee divorce.
In order to divorce in Tennessee, you must meet one of the following residency requirements:
(Tenn. Code § 36-4-104 (2023).)
Tennessee allows both "no-fault" and "fault-based" divorces. Typically, a no-fault divorce is quicker and easier than a fault-based one, because you don't have to prove that your spouse engaged in some type of misconduct. But Tennessee imposes extra requirements on no-fault divorces, so that option may not be available for all couples.
Tennessee has two no-fault grounds for divorce:
It sounds fairly straightforward to simply state that you and your spouse can't get along—and that's true in most states with similar divorce grounds. However, Tennessee law prohibits judges from granting an "irreconcilable differences" divorce unless you and your spouse have signed a divorce settlement agreement that fairly and adequately includes provisions for:
(Tenn. Code §§ 36-4-101(a), 36-4-103(b) (2023).)
If you file for a fault-based divorce, you'll need to present evidence proving that your spouse caused the end of your marriage through one of the following:
(Tenn. Code § 36-4-101(a) (2023).)
Generally, there are two types of divorce—contested and uncontested. In an uncontested divorce, the spouses have already agreed about all the issues in their divorce (including property division, child custody, child support, and alimony) by the time they start the divorce process. Because of that, the entire divorce process is faster and less expensive. There are no court battles, and couples can often navigate the legal process without hiring lawyers.
If you haven't managed to resolve all of the issues by the time you file for divorce, you'll at least start out with a contested divorce—even if you eventually reach a settlement before going to trial.
When you and your spouse have agreed on all the issues in your divorce, you can file the required paperwork for an uncontested divorce in Tennessee, based on irreconcilable differences.
Tennessee also offers a simplified type of uncontested divorce called "agreed divorce," but you may only qualify if you and your spouse don't own real estate or a business, and neither of you has retirement benefits. You can find the court-approved forms for agreed divorce on the Tennessee Courts website.
Tennessee doesn't have statewide standardized forms for contested divorces, so you'll need to check with the court clerk to find out if a form is available, or contact an attorney for assistance.
The main form you'll file will be the divorce complaint. Among other things, the complaint should include:
You'll need to include a notarized affidavit swearing that everything in the complaint is true to the best of your knowledge. (Tenn. Code §§ 36-4-106, 36-4-107 (2023).)
You'll need to file divorce paperwork with the clerk of the court in the Tennessee county where:
(Tenn. Code § 36-4-105 (2023).)
Whether you've filed for an agreed, uncontested, or contested divorce, a judge won't hear your case until a certain period of time has passed since you filed the divorce papers. The amount of time depends on whether you have children:
(Tenn. Code § 36-4-101(b) (2023).)
You'll have to pay a court fee to file your divorce papers. Filing fees in Tennessee vary from county to county. They might also vary depending on whether you have children. For instance, the filing fees in Shelby County (as of 2023) are $381.50 for a divorce with minor children and $306.50 for a divorce with no minor children. Contact the court clerk to find out the fees where you plan to file. You can also often find the amount by searching online for divorce filing fees, along with the name of the county and court.)
If you can't afford to pay the fees now, you can file a Request to Postpone Filing Fees and Order. If the court grants your request, you won't have to pay any court costs during your divorce.
Once you file the paperwork, you'll need to give your spouse notice of the divorce (called "serving" your spouse).
If you and your spouse are filing for an uncontested divorce, the easiest way to meet this requirement is to have your spouse clearly waive the right to service (as well as the need to file a response) in the marital settlement agreement.
Otherwise, you you can hire a process server or sheriff to hand the divorce papers to your spouse in person. In some cases, you can serve your spouse by delivering the original summons and a copy (certified by the court clerk), along with a fee of $20, to the secretary of state, who will then send the copy to your spouse by registered or certified mail. (Tenn. Code §§ 36-4-103(a), 20-2-215 (2022).)
If you want to get an agreed divorce or a regular uncontested divorce in Tennessee, but you and your spouse are having trouble agreeing about all of the issues, you might consider mediation. Divorce mediation is often much less expensive and less contentious than battling it out in court.
If you've reached an agreement, either on your own or with a mediator's help, you may be able to file for divorce online. Reputable online divorce services will provide the proper forms and basically walk you through the process. Some of these services will also take care of the actual filing for you.
If your divorce will be contested, or you have complicated finances, you will probably need to speak with a lawyer. (Learn more about when you can handle a divorce on your own or need an attorney.)