Tennessee Divorce FAQ

Get answers to the most common questions about divorce in Tennessee.

By , Retired Judge

The divorce process can often seem daunting. It's bad enough that you have to deal with the emotional and practical changes that come with ending a marriage, but you also have to navigate a legal system that's probably foreign to you. Add to that the money concerns that are almost always in the picture. But you can find answers to your questions about divorce laws in Tennessee, as well as the help you need.

Who can file for divorce in Tennessee?

In order to get a Tennessee divorce, you must meet the state's residency requirements. You'll qualify if the plaintiff spouse (the one who files for divorce) lived in Tennessee when the events that constitute the "grounds" (reasons) for divorce happened.

If the grounds for divorce happened outside of Tennessee, however, and the plaintiff lived out of state at that time, then you may get a divorce in the state if either spouse has lived there for six months immediately before you file the divorce papers.(Learn more about these requirements and how to file for divorce in Tennessee.)

Note that gay and lesbian couples have the same legal rights in divorce as opposite sex couples. But same-sex divorce sometimes involves extra complications, particularly for couples who lived together before same-sex marriage was legal.

What are the legal grounds for divorce in Tennessee?

Tennessee allows both "no-fault" and "fault-based" divorces. With a fault-based divorce, the plaintiff must show that the other spouse's wrongdoing (such as adultery, cruelty, or abandonment) brought about the collapse of the marriage. In a no-fault divorce, there's no need to blame the other spouse for doing something to cause the divorce. .

You may get a no-fault divorce in Tennessee if you can prove either of the following:

  • "irreconcilable differences," meaning you and your spouse can't get along and there's no reasonable chance of that changing, or
  • you and your spouse have lived in separate residences and haven't cohabited (had marital relations) for at least two continuous years, and you have no minor children (younger than 18).

(Learn more about the grounds for divorce in Tennessee.)

Does Tennessee require separation before divorce?

Tennessee doesn't require spouses to separate before divorce, unless a spouse files for a no-fault divorce based on two-year separation (as discussed above). But many spouses do separate before or during the divorce process. If that's something you're considering, you need to look into whether moving out of the family home—either before or during the divorce—would be in your best interest.

Note that Tennessee also offers "legal separation" as an alternative to divorce. (Tenn. Code § 36-4-102 (2022).)

How much does divorce cost in Tennessee?

Courts charge a fee for filing divorce papers. Filing fees in Tennessee vary from county to county, so you'll need to contact the clerk of the court where you plan to file. As just one example, the filing fees in Shelby County (as of August 2022, but always subject to change) are $381.50 for a divorce with minor children, and $306.50 for a divorce without minor children.

If you can't afford to pay the filing fees, you may request a fee waiver by filing a Request to Postpone Filing Fees and Order. If the court grants your request, you won't have to pay the fees when you file for divorce—but you might have to pay them at the end of the case.

Beyond the filing fee, the cost of divorce will depend on the specifics of your case, especially:

How long will it take to get a divorce in Tennessee?

Before the Tennessee courts may issue a divorce decree, there's a waiting period that begins on the date you filed the divorce complaint (the document that begins the divorce process). The waiting period is:

  • 60 days, if you and your spouse don't have an unmarried minor child, or
  • 90 days if you have an unmarried child under 18.

This wait time is usually considered a cooling-off period, to give you a chance to reconsider the divorce. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-101 (2022).)

As with cost, the actual amount of time your divorce will take depends on the circumstances in your case. If your divorce is contested, you'll have to go through a number of legal steps that can add several months to the process. And if you and your spouse aren't able to reach a settlement agreement at some point (more on that below), going to trial will require even more time—usually more than a year. Court backlogs can also make the entire process take longer.

How is marital property divided in Tennessee?

Courts in Tennessee distribute marital property based on the theory of "equitable distribution." This means judges will divide property based on what they believe is fair under the circumstances of each case.

Attributing a value to each asset is usually pretty straightforward. But dividing some property can be tricky at times. You'll often see this with a family-owned business, where you may need the input of a forensic accountant. Splitting retirement accounts is another example that usually requires hiring an expert.

How is child custody decided in Tennessee?

All decisions about the legal and physical custody of children in any Tennessee divorce must be based on what would be in the children's best interests.

Judges will consider several factors when they make custody decisions (or when they decide whether to approve the parents' agreement on that issue), including the custody preferences of children who are 12 years old or older. (Learn more about child custody laws in Tennessee.)

What are the child support guidelines in Tennessee?

Like all states in the U.S., Tennessee has guidelines that include detailed rules for deciding who must pay child support and how much those payments should be. Learn how child support is calculated in Tennessee, including when support amounts may depart from the guidelines.

How does alimony work in Tennessee?

Before judges will order a spouse to pay alimony in Tennessee, they must consider a long list of factors, such as the length of the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, and the spouses' physical and mental health.

Temporary alimony is available while the divorce is in progress, if the judge believes it's warranted.

Can we agree to an out-of-court settlement in our Tennessee divorce?

Yes, you may agree with your spouse about how to handle the issues in your divorce at any point during the process, from before you've filed the divorce papers right up to just before a trial. In fact, courts strongly encourage settlement.

Once you've worked out all your issues, you'll normally prepare and sign a written divorce settlement agreement that will become part of the final divorce decree. If you've already reached an agreement before you've filed your divorce papers, the court will consider your case to be uncontested—and you can get your divorce decree fairly quickly (after the waiting period discussed above).

What happens if we can't agree on a divorce settlement?

If you aren't able to agree with your spouse about one or more of the legal issues involved in ending your marriage, you'll need to go to trial to have a judge resolve the disputes for you. Anytime you need a trial, your divorce will take longer and cost more. So if at all possible, it's in your best interest to do everything you can to come to a settlement agreement that's fair to both you and your spouse.

When can I get an annulment in Tennessee?

If you want to get an annulment, you'll need to convince a judge that you meet one of the narrow grounds for voiding a marriage. Learn more about annulment in Tennessee, including the allowable reasons, the legal process, and the effects of annulling a marriage.

Where can I get more information and help with my Tennessee divorce?

You can find answers to other divorce-related questions in our section on divorce in Tennessee.

Here are some other resources:

  • Court services. You can find divorce court forms for an "agreed divorce" (which has several restrictions) on the Tennessee Judicial Branch website. For other forms, contact the court clerk. Additional help may be available through the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services.
  • Mediation. If you want the cost-and-time advantages of an uncontested divorce but are having trouble agreeing with your spouse about all of the issues, divorce mediation can help you find solutions and common ground. At the end of the process, the mediator typically will prepare a written divorce settlement agreement.
  • Online divorce. If you've reached a complete settlement but need help with the uncontested divorce forms, you might try an online divorce service that will provide you with the completed forms, based on your answers to a questionnaire.
  • Lawyers. Of course, there are some divorces that require a lawyer's help. If that's true in your case, here are some questions to ask before hiring a divorce attorney.