Tennessee Divorce Laws: Frequently Asked Questions
How much does divorce cost?
It’s no secret that divorces are expensive. Unfortunately, that knowledge alone is far too vague to be helpful in terms of actually calculating the cost of divorce as it applies to your particular circumstances. So, when you’re considering the potential budget for your impending divorce, it’s helpful to ask these three questions:
1) Who’s the judge?
In general, the question of how much a divorce will cost can be answered by another question: how long will it take? The length of a divorce process is largely determined by the judge. For example, if a divorce doesn’t involve a terribly large amount of assets to be divided, a judge could very likely cut things short even if one spouse is determined to push litigation. Less litigation means less money spent on litigating. Furthermore, at pendente lite hearings, judges have the option of creating an expedited schedule early in the divorce process. If this happens, deadlines could be pushed forward so that the resolution isn’t so expensively far away.
2) Who’s your spouse’s attorney?
While you obviously want the best possible divorce attorney for yourself, even the best lawyers have a limit to what they can influence. Your lawyer could be amazing, but no matter how you define “amazing”, it doesn’t translate to “control over your spouse’s legal representation.” Maybe your lawyer wants to push for mediation (usually a good idea), but your spouse’s lawyer is gearing up for litigation. After all, the more litigation there is, the more an attorney gets paid to litigate. Cooperation is key — if an amicable resolution isn’t on the other party’s menu, then get ready for a longer and more expensive divorce.
3) How is your spouse responding to the undertaking of divorce?
If you and your spouse are generally on the same page, that’s great! The likelihood of a smooth and inexpensive divorce is much higher. Unfortunately, and as is the case in many situations, tensions might not be so… nice. If your spouse is angry and ready to spend money, then you’re probably going to have to spend money too. One might say that a divorce’s prices are proportional to the degree of hostility involved.
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How long does the divorce process take?
The shortest divorce is the divorce based on irreconcilable differences. These only have to be as long as the mandatory waiting period. If the divorce doesn’t involve kids, the judge can bang the gavel after sixty (60) days. If kids are a part of the deal, you’re looking at a minimum of ninety (90) days.
The alternative to irreconcilable differences is litigation — and litigation can really, really drag things out. Litigation is what happens when the situation is hostile, when mutual agreements are off the table. If you find yourself traveling down this road, it’s probable that you’ll still be getting divorce when your birthday rolls around next year. Maybe even the next. And the next.
Does filing for divorce involve a waiting period?
Not in Tennessee! As long as at least on spouse has legal residence in the state, divorce can be filed whenever. To be considered a legal resident, one must have lived in Tennessee for a minimum of six months.
Divorce complaints — how are they served?
This depends on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested.
Uncontested divorces do not require a spouse the service a complaint. Instead, one spouse files a waiver of service of process and the other spouse simply consents. It’s as easy as signing an MDA (Marital Dissolution Agreement).
Serving divorce complaints comes into play with contested divorces. One spouse serves the complaint on the other, either through a Sheriff’s deputy, certified mail delivery, or a private process server. Whoever serves the complaint should choose the method based on their specific circumstances.
Are divorces awarded based on marital fault?
Of course! This is the case for contested divorces, i.e., those in which the grounds for divorce are not irreconcilable differences. Marital fault must, however, be defined in terms relevant to the accepted grounds for divorce. However, regardless of the “fault”, this is only one consideration used in determining awards in a divorce’s resolution.
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What are Tennessee’s grounds for divorce?
Uncontested divorces, those involving amicable resolutions instead of litigation, are typically those filed on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.
Contested divorces come with a much wider variety of potential grounds, including but not limited to:
- Domestic violence;
- Sterility or impotency;
- Habitual intoxication (drugs or alcohol);
- Pre-marital conception;
- Refusal to provide financial support;
- Inappropriate marital behavior;
- Separation for at least two years;
- Refusal to move to Tennessee (providing this is where the marital residence is located);
- Abandonment and desertion.
What happens if my spouse doesn’t sign the divorce papers?
In short, this means that you’re looking at a contested divorce instead of an uncontested divorce — assuming the papers we’re talking about here are the Marital Dissolution Agreement (MDA) or Permanent Parenting Plan (PPP). The fact that your spouse isn’t cooperating doesn’t mean that you can’t get divorced, it just means you have to decide the grounds on which your contested divorce will be based.
Will I have to Make Courtroom Appearances?
In most cases, yes, even if the divorce is based on irreconcilable differences. It’s just a matter of how long the court appearance needs to be. If it’s an uncontested divorce, the courtroom appearance is essentially a formality in which the Marital Dissolution Agreement and Permanent Parenting Plan are double-checked and endorsed.
Contested divorces, those involving litigation, will naturally involve more time in the courtroom.
How does alimony work?
According to Tennessee divorce laws, the state of Tennessee calculates alimony awards on the following considerations:
- Marital fault;
- Both spouses’ income and projected earnings;
- Assets, debts, and property (marital as well as separate);
- Age and mental health;
- Length of marriage;
- Physiological health and well-being;
- Education and vocational capacity;
- Relevant tax factors;
- Ability of primary residential parent to work away from home;
- Standard of living post-divorce.
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Are common law marriages legal in Tennessee?
No, you can’t get divorced from a common law marriage in Tennessee because common law marriages are not recognized as valid.
However, if the common law marriage took place in another state that does recognize such unions, Tennessee’s divorce law does make accommodations.
How do annulments work?
It’s possible that a marriage can be terminated via an annulment instead of a divorce. These are kind of a big deal, since annulments are the legal way of pretending the marriage never even took place. Naturally, there are particular factors that must be proven in order for an annulment to take place. These include:
- Undisclosed impotency or sterility;
- Undisclosed conception prior to marriage;
- Inability to consummate;
- Lack of consent or capacity;
- Non-legal marriage proceedings;
- Underage spouses;
- Marriages which were forced.
How do legal separations work?
Tennessee’s divorce law is pretty straightforward when it comes to legal separation. If two spouses are literally living separately, in the house or outside of it, they are separated legally — no paperwork required.
Can I change my name during the divorce process?
Not only is it possible to change your name after a divorce, it’s possible to do so legally before the decree is finalized. Many people choose to do so, understandably. If this is something that you’d like to do, contact your divorce attorney and make it clear that you want to change your name upon filing the divorce decree rather than waiting for the final resolution. If you wait, you risk paying extra fees.
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Can I date other people before the divorce is finalized?
No! Even if you’re legally separated, the state of Tennessee still considers you to be married until the judge makes the final declaration. If you choose to see other people prior to the resolution, you risk giving your spouse extra grounds to use against you — adultery and inappropriate marital conduct. Just wait it out. It’s illegal and not worth it.
Do I need to hire a divorce lawyer?
While it’s not legally required, trying to navigate the divorce process on your own is a difficult and cumbersome task. Tennessee divorce laws are incredibly complicated. That’s why divorce attorneys go to college for seven years before they’re deemed capable of managing divorce cases.
Chances are, if you try to represent yourself, you’ll wind up finding yourself in a spot where you’re going to need to hire an attorney anyways. The cheapest and most efficient way to get divorced, in the end, is hiring an experienced divorce attorney who not only knows the in’s and out’s, but has been through them many times before.
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