How Do I File for Divorce in Tennessee?

How to file for divorce in Tennessee depends in part on whether your divorce is contested or uncontested.

By , Attorney

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.

Residency Requirements for Divorce in Tennessee

You must meet a state's residency requirements before you can file for divorce in its courts.

If the plaintiff spouse (the one who files for divorce) lived in Tennessee when the events that constitute the grounds for divorce happened, Tennessee's residency requirement is met (learn about the grounds for divorce in Tennessee below).

If the events or acts occurred out of the state and the plaintiff spouse lived out of state at the time, the plaintiff or defendant (non-filing) spouse must live in Tennessee for six months before a divorce complaint can be filed in Tennessee. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-104 (2022).)

The Grounds for Divorce in Tennessee

Tennessee allows both "no-fault" and "fault-based" divorces. A no-fault divorce is one in which the court doesn't require either spouse to prove that the other's bad acts were the cause of the divorce. In a fault-based divorce, one or both of the spouses must show that the other's actions caused the marriage to fail.

No-Fault Grounds for Divorce in Tennessee

No-fault divorces in Tennessee reach resolution faster than fault-based divorces because the spouses don't have to argue about or prove who was responsible for the divorce. Also, with a no-fault divorce, you do not have to have your spouse's consent to end the marriage. Tennessee has two no-fault grounds for divorce:

  • Irreconcilable differences. The parties can't get along and there's no hope of reconciliation.
  • Living apart. The spouses have lived in separate residences for two continuous years, haven't cohabitated, and don't have minor children.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-101(a) (2022).)

Fault-Based Grounds for Divorce in Tennessee

In a fault-based divorce, one or both spouses will have to present evidence to the judge that proves the spouse committed acts that meet one of Tennessee's fault-based grounds for divorce. Fault-based divorces are often more contentious, more expensive, and last longer than no-fault divorces. The fault-based grounds for divorce in Tennessee are:

  • impotence at the time of marriage and continuing
  • either party knowingly entered into a second marriage
  • adultery
  • willful or malicious desertion or absence of either party, without a reasonable cause, for one whole year
  • being convicted of a crime that renders the person infamous
  • being convicted of a crime that, under the laws of the state, is declared to be a felony, and being sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary
  • an attempt on the life of the other by poison or any other means showing malice
  • refusal to move with spouse to Tennessee without reasonable cause, and being willfully absent from the spouse residing in Tennessee for two years
  • pregnancy at the time of marriage by another person without the knowledge of the husband
  • habitual drunkenness or drug use when the habit started after marriage
  • cruel and inhuman treatment or conduct that makes cohabitation unsafe and improper (also called "inappropriate marital conduct")
  • acts that cause "indignities to the spouse's person" that make it intolerable to stay married, and
  • abandonment or kicking the spouse out of the house for no cause, and refusal or neglect to provide for the spouse despite having the ability to provide.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-101(a) (2022).)

How to File for Divorce in Tennessee

Generally, there are two types of divorce—contested and uncontested. An uncontested divorce is one where the spouses agree on all divorce-related matters, such as division of property, child custody, and alimony (spousal support). A contested divorce, on the other hand, is one where the spouses agree on at least one topic and must ask a court to decide the issues in their divorce.

Uncontested divorces usually reach resolution faster and are less expensive than contested divorces because there's no fighting in court. Instead, the judge needs only to review and approve the spouses' marital settlement agreement and issue a divorce decree.

To get a divorce in Tennessee, you will need to file divorce paperwork with the clerk of the court in the county where you will file your divorce.

How to File an Uncontested Divorce in Tennessee

When you and your spouse have agreed on the issues in your divorce, the next step in getting an uncontested divorce in Tennessee is to file the required paperwork. Check with the clerk of the court to find out what forms are required to begin your uncontested divorce.

Tennessee offers a simplified type of uncontested divorce called "agreed divorce" to couples who meet strict requirements, such as not owning real estate together. Spouses who don't meet the criteria for filing an agreed divorce can still file an uncontested divorce based on irreconcilable differences.

See the Nolo article Uncontested Divorce in Tennessee for details and more information.

How to File a Contested Divorce in Tennessee

A contested divorce begins when one of the spouses files a petition for divorce with the court. Tennessee doesn't have statewide standardized forms for contested divorces, so you'll need to check with the clerk of the court to find out if a form is available, or contact an attorney or local legal services provider for assistance with drafting the correct paperwork.

All Tennessee divorce complaints must include a statement of the grounds for the divorce along with the:

  • full name of the husband
  • full maiden name of the wife
  • parties' mailing addresses
  • parties' dates and places of birth
  • race and color of each spouse
  • number of previous marriage of each spouse
  • date and place of the marriage
  • number of children who are minors at the time of the filing of the complaint, and
  • description of any other litigation concerning the custody of the minor children.

With the complaint, the filing spouse must also file a separate document that contains the full names, social security numbers, current mailing addresses, and dates of birth of the husband, wife, and all children born of the marriage. The filing spouse must also provide the clerk with one 8 ½" x 11" envelope labeled with the names of the parties. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-106 (2022).)

Any complaint for divorce that is based on grounds other than irreconcilable differences must be verified by an affidavit, meaning that the person filing it must swear in writing that the contents of the complaint are true. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-107 (2022).)

Divorce Waiting Period in Tennessee

No matter whether your divorce is agreed, uncontested, or contested, the court can't begin processing your case until a period of time has passed after your divorce petition is filed.

If you and your spouse don't have any unmarried minor children, the court must wait 60 days after your petition is filed to hear the case. If you and your spouse have one or more unmarried children under 18 years of age, the court must wait 90 days after your petition is filed to hear the case. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-101 (2022).)

Divorce Filing Fees in Tennessee

Along with filing the right paperwork, you'll have to pay court filing fees to being your divorce. Filing fees in Tennessee vary from county to county, so you'll need to contact the court clerk to find out the fees at the court where you plan to file. As just one example, as of 2022 the filing fees in Shelby County are $381.50 for a divorce with minor children and $306.50 for a divorce with no minor children.

If you can't afford to pay the filing fees, you can ask the judge to waive the fees. You can request a fee waiver by filing a Request to Postpone Filing Fees and Order. If the court grants your request to waive fees, you will not have to pay any court costs during your divorce.

Serving Your Spouse in Tennessee

Once you file the paperwork, you will need to provide notice to your spouse of the divorce (called "serving" your spouse).

You can hire a process server or sheriff to personally serve your spouse with the divorce papers. In some cases, you can serve your spouse by mailing the original summons and a copy certified by the clerk, with a fee of $20.00, to the secretary of state. (Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-4-103, 20-2-215 (2022).)

Alternatively, the nonfiling spouse can waive service in a notarized acknowledgment of the pending divorce. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-103(2) (2022).)

Getting Help Filing Your Tennessee Divorce

If you're getting an agreed divorce and you'd like to DIY your divorce, you can use either the forms for an agreed divorce with children or the forms for an agreed divorce without children.

If you're working with an attorney, your attorney will assess your situation and fill out, file, and serve all the necessary forms. Many divorcing couples can't afford to hire an attorney to handle their entire case, but would like some assistance with completing and filing their forms. If this describes your situation, consider using an online divorce service or finding an attorney who will consult with you on an as-needed basis. Low-income individuals might qualify for reduced-fee or free legal aid.