Your divorce doesn't have to devolve into an extended battle with big legal bills. If you can agree with your spouse about the issues in ending your marriage, you can avoid the stress and expense of a trial by getting an uncontested divorce.
Tennessee offers two methods of getting an uncontested divorce, depending on whether you have children and certain types of property. This article provides a general overview of the process for each type of uncontested divorce.
Tennessee has a simplified process of uncontested divorce known as "agreed divorce," but it's available only if you and your spouse:
You must also meet one of Tennessee's residency requirements:
When you file for an agreed divorce, you must include a written agreement (signed by both spouses) that includes detailed information about your personal property and debts, along with your agreement on the property/debt division and alimony. By signing the form, you both agree that you don't have to serve each other with the divorce papers.
You can download the packet of court-approved forms for an agreed divorce from the Tennessee courts website. The packets include detailed instructions on how to complete the forms and file them with the court. Generally, you will file the forms with the court in the county where your spouse lives now or where you both lived when you separated.
You will also need to pay a fee to file the divorce petition. Filing fees vary, depending on the county. You can apply to request a postponement of the filing fees if you can't afford to pay now. (The form for that request is in the packet.)
(Tenn. Code §§ 36-4-104, 36-4-105, 36-4-106 (2021).)
If you have minor children or the kind of property that disqualifies you from an agreed divorce in Tennessee, you may still get an uncontested divorce based on "irreconcilable differences." As in many states, you can choose to file for divorce in Tennessee based on fault or no-fault "grounds" (legal reasons for ending your marriage). If you file for the no-fault ground of irreconcilable differences, you may get an uncontested divorce as long as you've reached a settlement agreement that covers child support and custody, as well as alimony and property division. If you're having trouble agreeing about any or all of these issues, mediation could be helpful.
Many couples can go through the process of getting an uncontested divorce (including an agreed divorce) without a lawyer, either all on their own or with the help of an online divorce service. But if you're filing for an uncontested divorce based on irreconcilable differences, it's often a good idea to have an attorney look over your settlement agreement to make sure it's fair and protects all of your rights. Also, if you have the type of assets that are complicated to divide (like retirement plans or a family business), you might want to have a lawyer (or a mediator with financial expertise) give you advice or help draft the agreement.
One spouse (the "plaintiff") must file a petition (or "complaint") for divorce that states the ground of irreconcilable differences and includes other information about both spouses and their children. When you file a settlement agreement (which Tennessee law calls a "marital dissolution agreement") that both spouses have signed and notarized, the defendant effectively waives the right to receive a copy of the complaint by service of process and to file an answer. (Tenn. Code §§ 36-4-101, 36-4-103, 36-4-106 (2021).)
Along with the complaint and agreement, you may need to file other forms, including a parenting plan and financial disclosures. You can check with the local court clerk (in the county where your spouse lives or where you both lived when you separated) to get the proper forms. Or, to simplify matters, you can use an online divorce service that will provide and complete the appropriate forms for your situation, after you fill out a questionnaire.
You'll have to pay a filing fee (or request a postponement of the fee) when you submit the divorce paperwork. Here again, the fees vary by county; they're also higher if you have children.
Whether you file for an agreed divorce or a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, both you and your spouse should attend a final hearing before a judge in order to finalize your divorce.
Tennessee has a mandatory waiting period before the final hearing can take place. For couples without unmarried children younger than 18, the waiting period is 60 days from when the divorce petition was filed. Couples with minor children must wait 90 days.
At the hearing, the judge will review your paperwork and decide whether your agreement provides for an "equitable" settlement of your property rights and, if you have children, whether the custody and child support provisions are sufficient and in the children's best interests. If the judge doesn't believe the agreement is both fair and adequate, you and your spouse may amend the settlement at the hearing.
Once the settlement agreement is approved, the judge will incorporate it in your final divorce decree. Your divorce will be final when the judge signs the decree (which may not happen on the same day as the hearing). (Tenn. Code § 36-4-103 (2021).)