If you’re ready to file for divorce, it’s important that you understand Tennessee’s requirements and how to protect your rights. There are several forms you need to file to start your case. This article provides an overview of the divorce process in Tennessee.
You can’t file for divorce in Tennessee unless you or your spouse is a resident of the state. Specifically, Tennessee law requires that the plaintiff (spouse filing for divorce) or the defendant (spouse served with divorce papers) has resided in the state for at least six months prior to filing. If neither of your meets the six-month residency requirements, you’ll need to wait to file your case. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-104 (2019).
Once you’re ready to file for divorce, you’ll need to decide whether you an agreed divorce, a no-fault divorce, or a divorce based on fault-grounds.
An “agreed divorce” is a simplified divorce available to couples who meet the following criteria:
If you meet all of the above requirements, then you can fill out your forms online and follow the instructions for obtaining an agreed divorce in Tennessee.
If you don't meet all of the above requirements, you can seek a no-fault divorce, which means you don't have to prove your spouse committed some misconduct which led to the break up. In a no-fault divorce, you can simply claim that you and your spouse are incompatible.
In a fault-divorce, one spouse claims the other caused the break up by engaging in specific misconduct, such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment. This is usually the most time-consuming type of divorce process because you will have to prove to a court that the misconduct occurred and that it led to the divorce.
However, one spouse may want to seek a fault divorce based on adultery to prevent the other spouse from getting alimony or to reduce the guilty spouse’s property award. Because proving fault in a divorce can be complicated, you may want to speak to a local family law attorney for advice.
Depending the type of divorce you file, your forms may be slightly different. However, most divorce cases require the following:
All of the divorce forms will have blanks for “plaintiff” and “defendant.” The person asking the court for a divorce is the “plaintiff,” and the responding spouse is called the “defendant.” Some of the forms must be signed while you and/or your spouse are in front of a Notary Public. Do not sign the forms that require notarization until the person(s) required to sign are in front of a Notary Public.
After completing all the forms, make at least two copies of everything. The court will keep one, you will want one for your records, and you will need a copy for your spouse.
Filing your forms means taking them, along with at least two copies, to the “clerk of court.” You may take them to the clerk’s office in the county where you and your spouse live, the county where your spouse lives now, or the county where you lived when you were separated. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-105 (2019).
You will need to pay a filing fee when you submit your papers. If you can't afford the fee, then you may file a Request to Postpone Filing Fees and Order. If your request is approved, you will not have to pay filing fees at the time of filing, but you may be required to pay them at the end of your case.
You must also ask the clerk of court for a “Divorce Certificate.” There is a deadline for this form. You should ask the clerk for more information about the Divorce Certificate. Finally, the clerk will give you a case number when you file. You’ll need to keep this number handy because it must be included on all your divorce forms.
If you’re seeking a no-fault or a fault-based divorce, you’ll need to have your divorce papers personally served on your spouse. Generally, this means you’ll need to hire a sheriff or process server to hand deliver your divorce paperwork to your spouse. Your spouse may also agree to accept service of the divorce complaint, essentially waiving the right to be personally served with the divorce papers. Your spouse must complete an Acceptance of Service for you to file with the court.
In cases where one spouse is in the military, in jail, or impossible to locate, you may have to ask the court for permission to serve your spouse by alternative methods, such as publication in a local newspaper.
Even if you and your spouse reach a divorce agreement on your own, with the help of a mediator, or through your attorneys, you must wait at least 60 days after filing your Request for Divorce before you can schedule your divorce hearing. If you’re seeking an agreed divorce, you can’t wait more than 180 days after the last person signed the Divorce Agreement form, or you will need to file a new form.
Soon after the 60 days has passed, you should call the clerk to find out how to schedule the Final Divorce Hearing. The clerk may have an additional form for you to complete to set the hearing date. If needed, you should also fill out a Notice of Hearing to Approve Irreconcilable Differences Divorce and mail a copy to your spouse.
You must appear in court on your scheduled date and time, and bring copies of all your papers. It is best if both spouses go to the divorce hearing in case there are mistakes on the forms. However, only the filing spouse’s appearance is required. Nevertheless, a spouse who fails to show up at a divorce hearing or trial risks a default divorce being entered against him or her.
At the final divorce hearing, you will answer the judge’s questions about your marriage, separation, and other items on your forms. If the judge approves your divorce, and your spouse was not at the hearing, you will have to mail him or her a copy of the Divorce Order.
It is also important to remember that after the Final Divorce Order is issued, each spouse has 30 days to appeal the order.
Copies of all the required forms, along with instructions to review before filing out the forms, can be found by accessing the Tennessee State Courts Self-Help Center.
Tennessee Legal Aid Services offers free or low-cost legal assistance to individuals who qualify.