Divorce – State FAQ – Tennessee
Residency requirements, venue and procedures
Q: How long must I have lived in Tennessee prior to filing for divorce in an Tennessee court?
A: Tennessee law requires that the acts complained of must have been committed while the plaintiff was a resident of the state. If the acts complained of were committed outside of Tennessee and the plaintiff resided outside of the state at the time, either of the parties must have resided in Tennessee for six (6) months prior to the filing of the petition.
Q: What are the terms used to identify the parties in a divorce proceeding?
A: The party filing the action is called the Petitioner, while the other party to the divorce is referred to as the Respondent.
Q: What is “venue,” and what is the proper venue for a divorce case?
A: “Venue” refers to which type of court and in what locality the case is filed. An action for divorce filed in the State of Tennessee is filed in the Circuit or Chancery Court. The petition for divorce may be filed in the county where the parties last shared a residence, where the defendant resides if a resident of Tennessee, or where the plaintiff resides if the defendant is a non-resident.
Q: What is the title of the document initiating the action for divorce? The order granting the divorce?
A: The title of the document initiating the divorce proceeding is a Petition for Divorce, while the title of the order granting the divorce is referred to as the Final Decree of Divorce.
Q: Are there any waiting periods associated with a divorce action?
A: Divorces filed upon the grounds of irreconcilable differences require that there be a sixty (60) day waiting period between the time of the filing of the petition and the hearing of the divorce if the parties have no minor children. If the parties have minor
children, the Tennessee law requires a ninety (90) day waiting period between the filing of the petition and the hearing of the action.
Grounds for Divorce
Q: What is meant by “grounds for divorce”?
A: A “ground” for divorce is a “reason” for divorce. A set of judicially recognized reasons for divorce exist in Tennessee. You must use one or more of these reasons to justify your divorce.
Q: What are the recognized grounds for divorce in Tennessee?
A: Tennessee law permits no-fault divorces based irreconcilable differences between the parties. Additional grounds include; impotency, bigamy, adultery, desertion, conviction of a felony and sentence of imprisonment, conviction of an infamous crime, attempt on the life of the other, pregnancy of the wife without the husband’s knowledge by one other than the husband, physical cruelty, addiction to drugs or alcohol, cruel and inhuman treatment and abandonment.
Q: What does the term “spousal support” (or, “alimony”) mean?
A: “Spousal support” (sometimes called “alimony”) is money paid by one spouse to the other due to the payee spouse’s loss of the benefit of the payor spouse’s income due to the divorce.
Q: Is spousal support available while the divorce is pending in court, or only after the divorce has become final?
A: The court may order that one spouse support the other during the pendancy of the divorce action and/or after the divorce has become final. Support awarded pending the final decree of divorce is not to extend beyond the period of time necessary for the prosecution of the divorce action.
Q: What factors will the court consider when determining how much alimony to award to a party?
A: The courts may award alimony to either spouse. Alimony may be periodic, lump sum, or rehabilitative. Some of the factors the court considers in determining the amount and term of alimony include:
1. The value of any separate property and the value of each party’s marital property.
2. Whether the spouse seeking alimony is the custodian of a child whose circumstances are such that the spouse not seek employment.
3. The need of the spouse seeking alimony to seek additional training or education to find appropriate employment.
4. The standard of living established during the marriage.
5. The duration of the marriage.
6. The needs and obligations of each spouse.
7. The comparative financial resources of each spouse; and
8. Any factor the court deems equitable and just.
Q: On what basis does the court decide how marital property is divided?
A: Tennessee is a so-called “equitable distribution” state. This means that the division of property and debts between the divorcing parties should be fair and equitable, but not necessarily equal. Some of the factors the court considers in dividing the property between the parties include:
1. The duration of the marriage.
2. The age, physical and mental health, vocational skills, employability, earning capacity, estate, financial liabilities and financial needs of the spouses.
3. The tangible and intangible contributions of each spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other.
4. The relative ability of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income.
5. The contributions of each party to the acquisition, preservation, appreciation, depreciation or dissipation of the marital or separate property.
6. The value of each party’s separate property.
7. Any other factors necessary to achieve an equitable distribution.
Q: Is the “separate property” of one spouse subject to being divided up?
A: The question here is whether property “belonging to” one of the parties should be included in the marital estate for purposes of an equitable division. Generally, separate property acquired before the marriage or by gift or inheritance during the marriage may be excluded from the marital estate if neither the property nor its income has been used for the common benefit of the parties during their marriage.
Q: What if the parties occasionally use an item of separate property (for example, silver table utensils inherited by the wife) for the benefit of both parties?
A: The property may be subject to division. Where the parties regularly use property acquired by one party before marriage for the common benefit of the parties, it is more likely to be available for consideration in dividing property. The frequency of use may be considered by the court in making the decision.
Child custody and visitation
Q: What is child custody and visitation?
A: “Child custody” refers to which parent will have legal custody of the child(ren), i.e. with whom the child(ren) will live. “Visitation” is the topic of the non custodial parent’s ability to visit/spend time with the child(ren).
Q: If the parents cannot agree on child custody and visitation issues, on what basis will the court decide?
A: Tennessee courts will decide the issue of custody based upon the best interests of the child. In determining the best interests of the child, the court must consider the child’s reasonable preference for custody. Joint custody is presumed to be in the child’s best interests. There is no presumption that either spouse is more suited than the other for custody of the child. The court shall consider all relevant factors including the following where applicable:
1. The love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents and child.
2. The ability of the parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care and the degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver; and
3. The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment.
Q: What is “child support”?
A: Child support is money paid by the non custodial parent to the custodial parent in order to meet the needs of the child(ren).
Q: To what should the parties look for guidance regarding amount of child support to be paid? What standard will the court use if the parties cannot agree?
A: The Tennessee legislature has established child support guidelines which establish the presumptive correct amount of child support. Deviation from the guidelines require a specific finding by the court that application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate and such findings must be included in the judgment.