Your Complete Guide to Getting a Divorce in Tennessee

What We Cover In This Article

Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives


Divorce is often complex and messy. A long, drawn-out divorce, in particular, is stressful at best and overwhelming, too, but you can get through any type of divorce more easily with the proper support and the right tools.

Having the best information at your fingertips is essential for a smooth divorce proceeding. However, resources and information for divorce can be challenging to track down, which is why we've done the work for you.

Here, you'll find everything you need to know about getting a divorce in Tennessee.

Types of Divorce Laws in Tennessee 

Divorce is a clearly defined legal action in all fifty states. Knowing what to expect and how to file means you easily understand and meet the legal requirements.

Tennessee requires proof of grounds for divorce. There are two types of divorce: uncontested and contested. Whichever way you choose to file, you must clearly define it within your divorce paperwork.


Uncontested divorce means both parties agree to all of the terms of the divorce, and there is no need to take the divorce to trial.

Simply put, if you decide you're no longer in love and do not wish to continue your marriage, and you want to end it amicably and quickly an uncontested divorce is a perfect option. There is no need for proof of any misconduct here, and as long as you clearly define the Petition for Divorce as uncontested, that is all you need.

An uncontested divorce is also called a “no-fault” divorce because no one partner takes responsibility for the degradation of the partnership.

If your divorce claim is irreconcilable differences, the court requires that you have a written agreement providing for custody and property division. Tennessee Code Title 36. Domestic Relations § 36-4-103 also requires that both parties agree that irreconcilable differences is the grounds for the divorce.

If both parties agree, the court doesn't ask for any proof or testimony related to the divorce. However, if there is any dispute about irreconcilable differences, the judge won't grant the divorce until both spouses have a full agreement as to the terms of the divorce.

To obtain an uncontested divorce, you need to provide:

  1. Mutually agreed upon child support and custody agreement.
  2. Mutually agreed upon property division.
  3. Mutually agreed upon spousal support.
  4. Properly executed marital dissolution agreement.

No-Fault Divorce Options

In Tennessee, you can file for divorce based on irreconcilable differences and move forward right away. You can also file after two years of separation as long as no minor children are involved. 

Two years of separation with no minor children require proof that each spouse has lived in a different home for the previous two years and that they have no children with each other under age 18.

This two-year separation period applies to legal separation as well. If you file for legal separation and obtain a Decree of Separation, you can convert your separation to an absolute divorce two years after that. A judge may require more court hearings for this process. 

There is a sixty-day waiting period before the hearing occurs if you file right away, provided you have no minor children. If there are children, the waiting period is ninety days. This allows time to determine custody arrangements as best for the child.

Pros & Cons

  • Uncontested divorces save you time and money
  • Drama free way to end the marriage
  • These divorces tend to process quicker
  • You can avoid taking the divorce to trial
  • Requires the ability to navigate the divorce process
  • If domestic violence is involved, a contested divorce is safer
  • Neither spouse can demand additional spousal support or child support unless the other agrees.
  • Both spouses give up the right to appeal the terms of the divorce in the future.
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A contested divorce is much more complex than an uncontested. This often means that there has been some misconduct, and the wronged party wishes to terminate the marriage contract. A contested divorce also means the parties do not agree on the terms, and therefore trial will be necessary.

Contested divorces take much longer and cost much more money, mainly because you will typically hire an attorney to argue your case for the terms of the divorce. This might mean you need to hire investigators or pay for any other resources that might be needed for the judge to come to a conclusion on your divorce.

Any disagreements about the terms of the divorce mean it is contested or adversarial. Each spouse needs to have their terms decided on related to:

  • Asset division
  • Child custody
  • Alimony or spousal support
  • Disagreement that divorce is necessary 

When one party refuses to divorce or the terms, it only slows the process. Ultimately, the judge will grant the divorce rather than forcing one party to stay married when they do not want to.

A contested divorce is often an “at fault” divorce, which requires sufficient evidence for judgment to be entered. It can proceed as a no-fault divorce without that evidence, potentially affecting alimony payments.

Tennessee Code Title 36. Domestic Relations § 36-4-106 provides that a bill of particulars must clearly explain the facts of the case, verifying the grounds for the divorce by the time and place. For example, if you caught your spouse in an affair on January 3, 2021, at 7:00 p.m., you’d include that in your bill of particulars.

Other concerns in a contested divorce often focus on the request for custody and child support. When the parents cannot agree on who should retain primary guardianship, the court must consider several factors, including:

  • Which parent cares for the child most often
  • Which parent provides food, shelter, and clothing for the child
  • Which parent takes the child to school
  • Which parent takes the child to appointments
  • Which parent spends the most time with the child
  • If either parent uses drugs or alcohol
  • If either parent spends significant time away from the child
  • If either parent has moved in with someone new
  • If either parent has a criminal record
  • Which parent cares for the sick child
  • Which parent is involved with homework and play

When the parties cannot agree, a guardian ad litem determines what is in the child’s best interest and presents that information to the court.

A contested divorce is complex and requires expert opinions to help the judge determine the most equitable course of action. It is better to hire an attorney rather than attempt a pro se divorce (representing yourself), because of the intricacies of the process.

Whether contested or uncontested, the court holds a hearing to finalize the judge's decision to issue the divorce decree. Once that is issued, each party is free to live legally separate lives and no longer has any rights or responsibility toward the other outside of the divorce requirements.

Pros & Cons

  • You can fight for what you feel you deserve
  • If you and your spouse can not get along, this will help move through the process with 3rd parties
  • You may have to go to trial
  • These types of divorce tend to take much longer
  • It's more expensive than uncontested or simplified divorces
  • Typically more stressful

Absolute Divorce

In Tennessee, the complete dissolution of a marriage is called an absolute divorce. This is the same as a traditional divorce, just worded differently to illustrate a complete and total separation of the legally binding marriage contract.

Legal Separation

A legal separation is a type of divorce only without the finality of completely dissolving the marriage. In Tennessee, people wishing to obtain legal separation must undergo the same process as an absolute divorce. The only difference is that the end result does not dissolve the marriage.

Tennessee Code Title 36. Domestic Relations § 36-4-102 allows for legal separation that does not affect the legal bonds of matrimony but allows for the spouses to stop living together as a married couple.

While the process to reach legal separation is identical to that of divorce, the result is more about separating future asset gains and protecting them as separate property versus marital property.

Key Takeaways
Whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, there are laws related to what proof the courts require to grant the divorce. The waiting period can be as short as sixty days before your divorce hearing but could take longer. An uncontested divorce is simpler and quicker, while contested divorces can get messy. Legal separation doesn’t dissolve a marriage; it only separates the assets.

Residency Requirements in Tennessee 

In Tennessee, Code Title 36. Domestic Relations § 36-4-104 says that you must be a resident of the state for at least six months prior to the date you wish to file for divorce. 

It further clarifies that it doesn't matter whether the grounds for divorce happened in Tennessee or while residing in another state, as long as you live in Tennessee for six months before filing your divorce complaint.

If you or your spouse is an enlisted member of the armed services, your residency must be one full year regardless of where you or your spouse are currently stationed. If your permanent home is within Tennessee for one year, you are considered a Tennessee resident for divorce purposes.

You do not need to be a US citizen to file for divorce in Tennessee, and dual citizenship is allowed. This would be an instance where hiring an attorney would benefit your case because it becomes more complex.

Whether you remain a citizen of Tennessee once you've met these requirements does not matter. You can file for divorce in the county where you reside, then move away during the divorce proceedings with no penalty.

Often, one or both spouses wish to relocate after the marriage ends. It is simpler to file in Tennessee if you're already an established resident, even if traveling for hearings and meetings with your lawyer is inconvenient. 

Suppose you move away from Tennessee or move to Tennessee from another state before filing your Petition for Divorce. In that case, you'll need to wait until establishing residency to file for divorce.

Key Takeaways
Whether filing for divorce based on misconduct or simply deciding you no longer wish to continue the partnership, there are a few options for filing for divorce in Tennessee. Although, you do have to be a resident of the state for six months before you can file for divorce.

Grounds for Divorce in Tennessee 

Tennessee recognizes two main grounds for divorce: at-fault and no-fault. Within these two grounds, other requirements must be met.

No-Fault Divorce

A no-fault divorce means that there is no misconduct to prove, but both parties no longer want to remain married. For a no-fault divorce, you can file an uncontested divorce petition any time, or you can enter into a two-year separation divorce after two years of living separately.

If you file for divorce after living apart for two years, no minor children must be involved. In that case, the divorce would be an uncontested, no-fault divorce and could move forward with ease.

At-Fault Divorce

Tennesee Code Title 36. Domestic Relations § 36-4-101 outlines the acceptable grounds for divorce as follows:

  1. When the marriage contract was entered, either party was and continues to be incapable of bearing/producing children;
  2. If either spouse knowingly enters a second marriage, violating the previous and still existing marriage;
  3. Either spouse commits adultery;
  4. Either spouse willfully or maliciously deserts the marriage or leaves without reasonable cause for one full year;
  5. Either party is convicted of a crime that by state law determines the party to be infamous;
  6. Either party is convicted by a crime that is a felony and is sentenced to time in prison;
  7. Either spouse has maliciously attempted to end the life of the other spouse;
  8. One party refuses to move to another state with the spouse without reasonable cause and remaining absent from the Tennessee resident for two years;
  9. The woman was pregnant when married by another person, and the husband was unaware;
  10. Habitual use of drugs or alcohol that developed after the marriage contract;
  11. Cruel or inhumane treatment toward the spouse making the living conditions unsafe and improper;
  12. Either spouse has made life intolerable for the other and forced the person to leave;
  13. Abandonment or kicking out the spouse for no just cause, or neglect by refusing to provide for the spouse where there are means to do so;
  14. Irreconcilable differences;
  15. Both parties have lived in separate residences for two years, and there are no minor children.

For a judge to consider the divorce petition, the complaint needs to be filed sixty days before a hearing if there are no minor children and ninety days before a hearing if there are minor children. The waiting period begins the date you file the petition.

Key Takeaways
There are fifteen potential grounds for divorce in Tennessee, ranging from irreconcilable differences to marital misconduct. Having proof is required for the claim, and there is a waiting period between the date the divorce is filed and when a judge will view the claim.

Using a Tennessee Divorce Attorney 

Calling a lawyer can be intimidating, especially if you are the wronged party and have concerns for your safety. But finding a good divorce lawyer makes a huge difference in how your divorce proceedings turn out. This guide provides information to make this a more straightforward step of the process for you.

What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney

A good divorce attorney has experience in family law. They are familiar with the state's statutes and codes related to domestic relations and have both extensive knowledge of the legal system and good character.

While hoping for an attorney who has practiced law for many years could be beneficial, sometimes a new lawyer offers a different perspective and fresh enthusiasm, so don't let age deter you. Choose someone who has a support system and will clearly work in your best interests.

A good divorce attorney has high standards, clear values and is willing to work with your style for dissolving the marriage. Some attorneys are softspoken and relatively passive, encouraging the two parties to reach an amicable agreement, while others are more robust and aggressive.

However, there is no one right answer for what makes a good divorce attorney because your needs are not necessarily the same as someone else's. It is important to find the attorney who will approach your divorce the way you want them to and who will communicate clearly with you along the way.

How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney

Many attorneys rely on word-of-mouth advertising, and that's an excellent way to find yours. If you know family or friends who have been through a divorce, ask for their recommendations. They'll know of at least two attorneys, theirs and their former spouse's, and can tell you about their experiences.

If you don't know anyone who has been through the process, you can look online. Many attorneys have Facebook or other social media pages and websites where they explain their experience and qualifications, as well as their specialties.

You can search the Tennessee Bar Association for recommendations and assistance. The three Lawyer Referral Services in Tennessee are helpful also.

East Tennessee: (865) 522-7501

Middle Tennessee: (615) 242-6546

Southeast Tennessee: (423) 756-3222

Checking multiple resources and recommendations is a good idea because you'll have a more well-rounded idea of what that attorney is like and how they'll fit your needs. 

Read More: Divorce advice for men or Divorce advice for women

Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys

You don't have to hire the first attorney you meet. Take your time, get to know them, and trust your instinct about whether they are a good fit for you. Sometimes it takes several attempts to find the best-suited lawyer for your style and situation.

Whether it's the first lawyer you meet with or the fifth, you'll want to prepare your interview questions before attending your initial consultation. Having these questions planned out ahead of time will speed up the process and help keep you organized.


Do you handle cases involving child custody, domestic violence, high conflict, financially complex, mental illness or disability, or involvement in other legal cases?

First, get an idea of which of these issues might be involved with your divorce. If you don't have any, you can skip this question. However, if your case does involve any of these complications, you should ask this question before scheduling your initial consultation. 

If the attorney or their firm does not handle cases with these complexities, don't waste your time with a consultation.

What percentage of your cases are family law?

Some attorneys and even some firms only handle one type of law. If they exclusively practice family law, chances are pretty good that they're going to have the skills needed to manage your divorce properly.

If the percentage of cases is low, that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't a good choice, just that if there are other options for attorneys, you may want to consider someone with more experience. 

In many small communities, there isn't enough demand for any one type of law for a firm to only practice it, so use your judgment about what's available in your area.

What is your divorce philosophy?

This question is essential in determining whether your attorney is just out to win, do things cheaply and quickly, or looks for the client's best possible outcome. None of the answers are inherently wrong, but they must match your personal philosophy.

If you want to take your spouse to court for everything they have, you'll want an attorney with an aggressive and competitive philosophy, but if you wish to settle things quietly and quickly, that person might not be a good fit for your representation.

Use your judgment here to determine which attorney's philosophy best aligns with your own.

How often do your divorces go to trial?

Not every divorce case requires a trial. Often, both parties' attorneys can reach an agreement or settlement outside of court, and you only have to go before a judge for the final judgment of the dissolution of the marriage.

However, sometimes a more contentious divorce will require time before a judge. If your attorney has never seen the inside of a courtroom, that could mean they're excellent at conflict resolution or that they aren't willing to put up a fight. 

Conversely, if they always take divorces to trial, they might be too contentious or unreasonable. Ideally, you'll find someone in between who recognizes your wishes to either win at all costs or take the settlement quietly and with minimal conflict.

Will you be doing the work on my case, or will an associate or paralegal do it?

As an attorney moves up in their career, they often take on more prominent cases and more of an administrative role over some of the more minor day-to-day lawsuits. A junior associate, new lawyer, or even a paralegal may manage your case if they do this.

The attorney you hire will supervise the team working on your case, but they may not be as involved in the process. This can be beneficial to you because the billable hours are less expensive when paralegals or associates do the work versus the more expensive, seasoned attorney.

If you want your attorney to be the only one working on the case, ask if that's possible. It might be, just at a higher cost.

Will you hire outside resources?

On occasion, a divorce case requires resources outside the attorney's office. If you need an investigator or an accountant, the attorney's firm may hire outside help to cover the areas as an expert. You'll need to know what those services cost and how likely they are to become part of your legal process.

If you want to approve any outside resources before your attorney hires them, now is the time to ask if that is possible. You can also inquire about who they prefer to use for each service.

How can I keep in contact with you?

Most of the time, you'll be able to give your attorney all the information and then sit back and wait for them to get back to you. But sometimes, you'll want to reach them for updates or provide new information they might need to include in their paperwork.

Some attorneys prefer to communicate via email so they can respond when it is convenient or between phone calls and meetings. Others set aside time where they return calls each day. They often cannot answer your call when it comes in because they're busy with other cases or hearings.

Ask what their preferred communication method is and how long you should expect to wait for a response. Also, ask if they return calls themselves or have their paralegal or associates do it for them. Like with anything else, you'll have to decide if their system works for your needs throughout the process.

How involved can I be?

Some attorneys don't mind if the client wants to be hands-on and involved with a lot of the process, but others prefer that you give them the information and then let them work. Find out how much involvement they expect from you, and be prepared to pay extra if your involvement means things take longer.

How much will my divorce cost?

While the cost will vary by need, your attorney should have a general idea of what to expect. Now is also an excellent time to ask what their retainer fee is.

A retainer is an amount you pay the lawyer upfront to guarantee their services. This can be anywhere from $5000 on upward, depending on how much they believe the process will cost. The retainer pays the lawyer and associates' hourly fees as well as court costs and other expenses.

Do you have any conflict of interest?

Not every conflict of interest is immediately apparent; however, if the lawyer knows your spouse or is friendly with your spouse's lawyer, that could constitute one.

Keep in mind, every lawyer you and your spouse meet with becomes conflicted in the case because they will have knowledge of the other side's position. This is one reason it is important to seek your attorney quickly, so you have the flexibility to hire who you choose, free of conflict.

Is the Initial Consultation Free?

Not every attorney offers a free initial consultation, though many do. So be sure to ask the question before the meeting to avoid unplanned for charges. This is one hour for you to conduct your interview, give them an overview of the case, and decide whether you want to move forward with this person as your legal representative.

Be sure you bring all necessary information and documents with you, so the attorney has the opportunity to review them before deciding if they can represent you.

Once you've finished your initial consultation, you'll likely need to pay a retainer before scheduling any more meetings. This is when the attorney becomes your representation. An initial consultation is not a guarantee of representation because they're interviewing you, too.

Is the Meeting Confidential?

Every meeting with an attorney is considered confidential. Even if your initial consultation is free, they are required to keep all information privileged. This means that even if you choose not to hire that attorney, they still have to keep everything confidential.

This confidentiality, or privilege, is why any attorney you or your spouse has met with but not hired is considered to have a conflict of interest in your divorce proceedings. They cannot know privileged information on the other party, and this consultation would negate that.

Pros of Using an Attorney

Choosing an attorney can seem daunting, but it is essential. An attorney offers protections for you throughout the divorce, such as:

  • Legal expertise – they have been through this many times before and clearly understand the law and how it applies to your specific needs.
  • Settlement – they'll know how to increase your chances of a fair settlement and even help resolve differences that could otherwise drag out the process.
  • Emotional stress – an attorney shoulders the brunt of the communication, meaning you don't have to interact as much with your soon-to-be former spouse.
  • Your rights – your attorney will fight for your best interest no matter what. They'll protect you first and foremost.
  • Mediation – if you have trouble deciding what you and your partner want from the divorce or are unsure what you have rights to, an attorney brings unbiased and educated opinions to the discussion. If you still can't agree, the attorney argues your case in court for you.
  • Custody – with children involved, things can get messy. A lawyer helps ensure that you follow all child custody laws and determine the best course of action for the children involved.
  • Paperwork – nobody enjoys filing paperwork, and if you do it incorrectly, it can delay your divorce. An attorney knows what to file and when, so deadlines are met, and you can move forward.
  • Fairness – spousal support or asset division could mean dissent between you and your spouse. An attorney negotiates this in fairness and equity, ensuring that you get property and assets divided as you should.
  • Support – getting divorced is hard. Having someone on your team fighting for you alone makes it easier. 

Cons of Using an Attorney

You may not want to hire an attorney. If you have experience filing court documents, are well organized and efficient, and prefer to be more involved in the process, you can file your divorce petition pro se. Pro se just means “in one's own behalf” in Latin and is a right protected by 28 USC § 1654.

Some of the cons of using an attorney include:

  • Alienation – if you could resolve your differences in the divorce and reach an agreement amicably, bringing a lawyer into the mix could alienate your spouse and inadvertently make things contentious.
  • Cost – it isn't cheap to hire an attorney. With hourly rates over $200 in some areas, it can get expensive quickly. 
  • Control – when you hire an attorney, even though your perspective is important to them, they ultimately call the shots. Your case is in their hands.

Key Takeaways
Choosing your divorce attorney or whether to hire one at all can be complicated. Ask lots of questions, compare answers and hourly rates, and then use your good judgment to decide who is the best person to represent you in your divorce. Remember that any meeting you have with a lawyer is considered privileged and confidential. If you know your spouse has already met with someone for possible representation, that lawyer cannot represent you.

Filing for Divorce in Tennessee 

Filing for divorce is a form of a lawsuit. The complainant or defendant files a complaint against a plaintiff, and the actual filing is called a Petition for Divorce. If you've hired an attorney, they will complete many of these steps for you. If you are filing pro se, you'll have to do it all yourself.

First, you file the complaint. You can find the court-approved divorce forms online. The State of Tennessee has approved them, and any court that hears divorce cases must accept these forms.

When you file your Petition for Divorce, proceedings don't begin until the spouse/defendant receives their summons. 

Once your spouse receives the Petition, they have the opportunity to answer. They can file an Answer and Counter-Complaint, which is basically the same thing that you filed, only their request for assets, property, and relief like you've filed.

If there is an at-fault grounds for the Complaint, you can request a temporary injunction against your spouse, so they cannot sell assets, clear your bank account, or issue any kind of threat against you. If they violate the injunction, this is contempt of court and can result in jail time.

If you already know what you want to discuss in a settlement, that process begins next. If not, then lawyers enter a period called discovery. Discovery is when each attorney investigates the situation surrounding the divorce. They'll ask for documents related to assets, debts, properties, businesses, and more.

In many cases, spouses share discovery documents without reservation, so nothing needs to be filed. But if there is any lack of communication or cooperation, your attorney will file a Request for a Production of Documents including depositions, Requests for Admissions, and subpoenas.

One thing that happens sometimes is depositions, where attorneys meet with the other party to ask questions, gain information, and get an idea of what they're looking for in the case. Depositions are expensive because you need court reporters and transcription, then the lawyers review everything.

Child custody and child support discussions happen next, and then when that is finished, your attorneys seek a negotiated settlement. If you cannot reach a settlement, then the case goes to court, where a judge publicly determines the divorce outcome.

Divorce trials are expensive and potentially embarrassing. The plaintiff's lawyer argues the case first, followed by a rebuttal from the defendant's lawyer. The burden of proof falls on the plaintiff, who claims the grounds, shows documents, and provides necessary witnesses.

The defense can refute the argument and present their own evidence. In some cases, the court might give the plaintiff the chance to respond, but that is not guaranteed. The judge then decides if they need to hear any more information.

Custody decisions often occur in a separate hearing.

When the judge has considered all evidence, they issue a decision which either party can appeal within 30 days if they disagree. After that, the judgment is final and permanent. Congratulations, you're now divorced.

Often, this isn't the end of the work, though. Custody, division of assets, and more might need to be prepared and property sold. See more information about these issues below.

Preparing Your Divorce Forms

If you choose to file your divorce forms yourself, you'll begin by printing them from the online resource. Be sure to fill everything out exactly as required to avoid delays in processing. Anything that you fill out incorrectly could result in the court refusing to accept the paperwork, and you'll have to start over again.

Information you'll need includes:

  • Complaint for Divorce (signed and notarized)
  • Personal information on your spouse
  • Health Insurance Notice
  • Divorce Agreement (if your divorce is uncontested – signed and notarized by you and your spouse)

Remember that the divorce timeline does not begin until the defendant's paperwork is correctly filled out, filed, and served to the plaintiff.

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Filing Your Divorce Forms

When you're ready to file, bring two copies along with the original to the Clerk of Court. According to TN Code § 36-4-105, you can file either in the county where you and your spouse both live, where you live currently regardless of where your spouse lives, or the county where you lived when you first separated.

The court requires a filing fee, anywhere from $184 to $301, depending on whether there are children involved and if you have the sheriff serve papers to your spouse.

Once the papers are filed, the judge sets a hearing date either sixty or ninety days from the filing date.

Serving Your Spouse

Tennessee offers several options for serving papers to your spouse as required by Tennessee law. All documents must be provided to your spouse by official notice.

You can have the sheriff deliver the papers or a process server if they're available in your spouse's community. If your spouse is not a danger to you or your family, you can have a family member over age 18 or a family friend hand-deliver the papers.

Another option is to use certified mail to send the papers to your spouse's home. If you don't know where they live, you can use the newspaper to publish a legal notice.

Financial Disclosures 

One of the most critical parts of your divorce proceeding is the financial disclosures. This is where you'll let the court know about all assets, businesses, debts, and other financial obligations or investments. 

Honesty in financial disclosures is essential because assets cannot be equitably divided without it. In fact, dishonesty could cost you more in the long run because a judge can determine you did not act in good faith or you had the intent to deceive your spouse.

Key Takeaways
Preparing to file for divorce requires attention to detail, so you fill out all paperwork correctly to avoid delays. Once your spouse has been served, the divorce countdown begins, and the judge will set a date for a hearing. Be sure to fill everything out fully and honestly.

Online Divorce in Tennessee 

Tennessee allows you to complete forms found online as long as they're legitimate Tennessee-approved forms. There is no divorce process online aside from filling out the forms.

Using an online resource helps you verify that your pro se case is filed correctly and prepared, so your divorce process is smooth and easy. Be sure you choose a company that is familiar with Tennessee state statutes.

How to Qualify for an Online Divorce in Tennessee

If your divorce is uncontested and simple, there are online resources to assist with filling out the paperwork for your divorce. Fill out the questionnaire, and the website will determine if you meet their qualifications. 

Do You Still Need to Go to Court? 

As with uncontested divorces, you may not need to go to court for anything except your final hearing for the judgment that finalizes your divorce. Only an uncontested divorce can use online filing resources.

Key Takeaways
While you cannot file for divorce online in Tennessee, you can find your needed forms. Some websites help fill out the forms, while others only provide printable versions. We recommend 3StepDivorce learn more >>

How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in Tennessee 

The amount of time your Tennessee divorce takes varies depending on how complex your situation is. If you have child custody and child support, alimony, a significant number of assets to divide, these can all make the case take longer. 

The least amount of time an uncontested, simple divorce without children involved would take is sixty days from the date you file your Petition for Divorce. If you have children, the least amount of time for an uncontested divorce is ninety days from filing the Petition.

A no-fault divorce with no contention takes between two to six months to complete. On the other hand, a contested divorce can take more than a year.

Many factors come into play when estimating how long your divorce will take. These include:

  • Child custody – determining which parent should have primary custody, what child support should include, and visitation and financial obligations take time. Deciding what is best for the children doesn't always align with what a parent wants, so this process can take months to sort out.
  • Spousal support – also known as alimony, is a legal obligation to provide financial support to a spouse. The court will determine if and how much spousal support is appropriate based on several factors.
  • Division of property and debts – if you have investments, retirement, business obligations, etcetera, they complicate the process and can take many months to finalize division.

While a divorce becomes final when the judge issues the decree after the Final Hearing, sometimes the financial division can take longer.

As for considering the divorce completed in terms of remarrying, dating again, or simply telling people you're divorced, that takes place with the judgment. 

Key Takeaways
Divorce isn't quick and easy, but an uncontested divorce could be finalized in as little as two to six months, while a contested divorce can take a year or longer.

Divorce Costs in Tennessee 

Divorce doesn't have a standard flat rate because there are too many factors to consider. Filing pro se costs less than hiring an attorney, while filing fees are the same no matter what. If you need outside resources, the expense goes up. 

The average cost of divorce is approximately $10,000 to $17,000 and sometimes higher.

Court Fees

Filing your divorce papers with the Clerk of Courts can cost anywhere from $184 to $301, depending on whether you serve papers via mail or by the sheriff or process server. 

Every new paper that you file has a different fee, so the cost rises if you need to add more information later.

Attorney Fees

Attorney fees take the bulk of the expense in a divorce case. Your lawyer, associates, and paralegals spend a great deal of time sorting through information, preparing paperwork, and making phone calls to determine the best course of action for your divorce.

A complex divorce, contested and with children or many assets, takes more time. More time costs more money. The average hourly rate for divorce attorneys in Tennessee is between $200-$300 per hour or even more for high end attorneys. 

Often, your attorney will require a retainer, or down payment, for their services. This money goes into escrow, and the attorney bills against the retainer each month as they work. Once the retainer has depleted, the attorney bills you directly for more costs incurred. 

Sometimes, you can find a law firm that offers flat-rate divorces for couples with straightforward, uncontested divorces, but that's only if you and your spouse already agree to all of the terms of the divorce.

Litigation Costs

Litigation costs depend on what you need to file with the court and the amount of time it takes. Typically, court fees are around $250-$500 for an uncontested divorce, but it depends on the county. If there are a lot of different motions filed, costs rise.

Alongside filing fees, there are expenses associated with the court reporter, copies, subpoenas, expert testimony, depositions, and more.

Of course, the more complicated the divorce, the more expensive litigation fees become.

Mediation (Reduce Costs)

A mediator, who can often save money in the long run, costs around $100-$200 per hour. This rate is far lower than an attorney, so if you believe mediation could work for you and your spouse, this is an excellent way to save money on the process.

Online Divorce Service 

Online divorce services charge their own fees, so they vary depending on which website you choose to work with. Their fees only cover preparing the documents to file and are separate from all court, litigation, attorney, and mediation fees.

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Key Takeaways
Divorce doesn't have to be the most expensive thing you ever do, but it can get pricey quickly. Do as much of the work as you can yourself, hire mediators, and save some money that way before heading to a lawyer and a courtroom. But be prepared to spend thousands of dollars.

Custody Considerations in Tennessee 

Child custody is one of the most challenging parts of any divorce claim. Most parents have their child(ren) ‘s best interest at heart and want nothing more than to protect their child(ren). Sometimes that means protecting them from their other parent, and sometimes it means sharing the custody time equally.

It used to be that “sole custody” was an option for a parent who had full legal rights as a “custodial parent.” In 2001, lawmakers revised Tennessee law to create a “primary residential parent,” or PRP, with whom the child resides more than with the other parent, called the “alternative residential parent,” or ARP.

The law used to grant sole rights of decisions to the custodial parent, whereas current laws seek to provide some equality in the decision-making process for children. Day-to-day decisions lay with the PRP, though more significant decisions could require agreement from both parents, and others still might be determined by the ARP.

Permanent parenting plans also changed the terminology from “visitation” to “parenting time” or “residential time.” The goal was inclusivity for each parent and the child within both homes.

To be considered the primary residential parent, the child must reside with you more than 50% of the time. Even if the split is equal at 50/50, the court often names one parent as the PRP for clarity's sake in legal documentation.

While both parents retain rights for decisions, the daily choices often fall to the PRP. When there is a dispute, the ARP can request mediation and even take the PRP to court if they cannot resolve the disagreement on their own.

If a parent's decision doesn't cause harm to the child, the judge will often not overrule a parent's decision about something, so that is important to note when deciding if the disagreement is significant enough to warrant court involvement.

As long as there is no evidence to suggest that a parent should not be involved in their child's life, courts prefer to give equal time as much as possible to both parents. Parenting time is divided as fairly as possible, with days counted as twelve or more consecutive hours within a twenty-four-hour period.

Tennessee law provides factors the judge must consider when determining which parent should be the primary residential parent or if the court should exclude a parent from having any custody rights at all. These factors include:

  • The nature of the parent/child relationship and stability the parent provides and whether the parent usually handles the majority of parenting needs.
  • Each parent's past and potential future performance for their responsibilities toward the child. This includes how willing they are to maintain a relationship between the child and the other parent and make choices in their best interest. The court also considers whether each parent is likely to abide by the court-ordered agreements or if they will be unwilling to maintain reasonable standards.
  • Whether parents attend court-ordered education seminars.
  • If each parent is able to adequately provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and other needs. 
  • How much time each parent has spent as the primary caregiver already, and who has been more responsible for the parental duties.
  • How much connection exists between each parent and child regarding love, affection, and emotional connection.
  • The child's developmental level and emotional requirements.
  • A parent's moral, physical, mental, and emotional fitness regarding how they could parent the child. This includes mental health information and medical limitations.
  • The child's connection to siblings, other relatives, mentors, school, and other significant activities.
  • Continuity and stability for the child.
  • Any evidence of physical or emotional abuse toward the child or another person around the child.
  • The character of any person regularly in the parent's household and around the child.
  • If the child is twelve years or older, their preference for their parent to live with is a factor. Younger children can sometimes provide the court with their preference, as well. Neither is a guarantee, but the court considers the opinion.
  • Parent employment needs.
  • Any other factors the court determines are relevant.

The ultimate goal of child custody arrangements in Tennessee is to maintain consistency and reliability for the child, deciding based on what is in the child's best interest.

Read More: Understanding The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children

Child Support Considerations in Tennessee 

Tennessee uses child support guidelines from the Department of Human Services. The guidelines use an income shares model to determine how much child support a parent should pay. It considers the adjusted gross income from both parents and how many children are involved.

Child support guidelines are complex and contain many different factors, so this is a situation where lawyers make the process much more manageable. Both parents' income is evaluated, and then each parent is assigned a Basic Child Support Obligation (BCSO). The PRP spends their money directly on the child while the ARP sends money each month.

Several of the things considered when determining child support include:

  • Self-Support Reserve – requires that the person paying support can maintain a minimum standard of living, which is based on 90% of the federal poverty level for one person.
  • Taxes – the ARP (alternative residential parent) files as a single person, while the PRP (primary residential parent) claims the child tax credit and benefits.
  • Basic expenses – the daily needs of raising a child like housing, food, and transportation make up the bulk of this consideration. Clothing and entertainment needs factor in as well, to a lesser degree.
  • Extraordinary education expenses – the costs incurred with tuition, room, and board, school fees, books, and anything else reasonable and necessary related to special education, private elementary or private secondary school are considered under this factor.
  • Special expenses – summer camps, activities, lessons, and other costs that are not mandatory (such as food, health insurance, and child care costs) factor in differently only when the expense is more than 7% of the child support obligation.
  • Health insurance – each parent is responsible for a portion of the child's health insurance premium.
  • Childcare costs – work-related childcare expenses are factored in outside of the BCSO because they vary greatly depending on hours worked, availability of services, and more.

Each parent fills out the Child Support Worksheet, a Credit Worksheet, and the Child Support Schedule. There is a calculator available online, and these forms determine the amount of BCSO owed by each party.

As each of the expenses is determined, so is income. Gross income includes:

  • Wages
  • Salaries
  • Commissions, fees, tips
  • Self-employment income
  • Bonuses
  • Overtime
  • Severance
  • Pension or retirement
  • Interests and dividend payments
  • Trust income
  • Annuities
  • Capital gains
  • Disability or retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration
  • Workers compensation
  • Unemployment
  • Judgments for other civil actions
  • Gifts of cash or liquid assets that convert to cash
  • Inheritance with cash value
  • Prizes
  • Lottery
  • Alimony received from a previous marriage
  • Income earned during incarceration as an inmate

These factors assume that each parent will maintain adequate employment and properly report all wages and earnings to the court. Failure to do so for any reason other than incarceration could result in additional child support determination against the ARP.

If you have concerns about your employment and income status, it is best to consult an attorney.

Key Takeaways
Many factors come into play when determining the amount each parent contributes to a basic child support obligation. Tennessee offers many online resources to help understand the process, but a lawyer with experience can streamline the process further.

Alimony Considerations in Tennessee

Alimony is a payment made to a spouse to provide support after a divorce. This is also called spousal support or spousal maintenance and is determined in part by the length of the marriage. 

If a marriage has lasted many years, the court will determine spousal support based on long-term needs. A shorter marriage might require alimony with the intent for the spouse to become self-supporting within a specific time frame. 

In an at-fault divorce, the actions leading to the end of the marriage can affect how much alimony is received. For example, if you commit adultery or threaten your spouse's safety, the judge could award them a higher alimony amount than if you divorced for irreconcilable differences.

Conversely, if you're the wronged party, you can ask your attorney to seek higher alimony based on the amount of undue stress or duress caused by your spouse. 

Kinds of Alimony

There are four different types of alimony payments.

Alimony in Futuro

Periodic alimony is paid in specified increments for the duration of the payment period. Sometimes this is monthly, sometimes annually, and anything in between. This alimony is reserved for spouses who are incapable of “rehabilitation” and cannot be expected to provide for themselves long-term.

Transitional Alimony

The purpose of transitional alimony is to get the spouse through the divorce process and allow them to settle into a financially secure position on their own. It is not permanent alimony and ends when the supported spouse can support themselves.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony goes to a spouse who can work and earn money, but less than the standard of living they experienced during the marriage, or significantly less than what their spouse will be living after the divorce.

Alimony in Solido

A lump sum is paid to the spouse one time, and no further payments are required.


Before a court orders alimony, they consider the supporting spouse's income and ability to pay and their earning capacity and monthly expenses. They look at whether the supporting spouse has an extravagant lifestyle compared to the supported spouse and what the spouse's reasonable need will be.

Other factors include:

  • Earning capacity of both spouses
  • Education and training of each spouse
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • Each spouse's age and mental capacity
  • The physical condition of each party, including disability or chronic disease
  • Whether one party could seek outside employment or needs to be caring for a child at home
  • Each party's separate assets
  • Property division
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Tangible and intangible contributions to the marriage, such as financial and homemaker, as well as supported training or education
  • Who is at fault for the divorce
  • Tax consequences of alimony for both parties
  • Any other factor the court deems relevant.

Whether you will receive or pay alimony depends on your income and lifestyle compared to your spouse's. The spouses will set alimony amounts if your divorce is decided via mediation and agreement. Otherwise, a judge issues an order.

Voluntary unemployment could mean the supported spouse can file a claim asking for more alimony. Choosing unemployment or underemployment to avoid paying alimony has consequences and could cost more in the long run, just like child support.

Key Takeaways
Alimony isn't guaranteed, nor is it necessarily permanent, but with a few different types of alimony available, it's a good chance some alimony payment will exist. Only a judge can determine if alimony should be altered or ended.

Division of Assets 

By far, one of the most tedious aspects of your divorce is the division of assets. Distribution of marital property allows the court to equitably divide, distribute, or assign property to one party or the other. In Tennessee, the goal is equitable, not equal. 

Tennessee courts consider several factors when determining how to divide assets in a divorce. Some of these assets include, but aren't limited to:

  • How long the marriage lasted
  • Each party's age, skills, employability, earning capacity, financial liabilities, financial needs, mental and physical health
  • Tangible and intangible contributions of each party to the other's earning capacity
  • Each party's relative ability to obtain future capital assets and income
  • Each party's contribution to the marriage, including assets, time, parenting, and more
  • Each party's separate property value
  • Each party's estate at the time of the marriage
  • Each party's economic status
  • Tax consequences to each party
  • Social security benefits 
  • Any other factor the court determines is relevant.

As your attorney guides you through the process, they'll know how courts often consider each of these factors and can assist you in determining division through mediation if possible.

Unlike alimony, division of assets does not consider whether a party was at fault in the divorce. There is no altered division based on marital misconduct. Equitable distribution occurs regardless of the grounds for the Petition.

Equitable Distribution State

Equitable means that it is a fair division of the property, which means that a 50/50 split of all assets might not be the case. In a community property state, assets are divided equally because they belong to both parties. 

In an equitable distribution state, like Tennessee, it means that there are joint assets as well as individual assets. Each spouse retains rights to property they owned prior to the marriage contract except in very few situations. Those situations include:

  • Prenuptial agreement
  • Postnuptial agreement
  • Commingling
  • Transmutation
  • Dissipation

Pre and Postnuptial Agreements

Anything determined within the pre or postnuptial agreements is legally binding, and the court must consider those agreements in dividing assets in a divorce.


Separate assets a spouse had before marriage become commingled when they are mixed with marital assets or the other spouse's separate assets. This can include a joint bank account, investments, businesses, and more.


Transmutation means that separate property has become marital property. An example would be refinancing a house in your name alone to include your spouse's name on the deed or adding your spouse to the title and registration on your vehicle.


Dissipation is considered wasteful spending. If a spouse dissipated assets to reduce their division or hide assets from their spouse, the court could require them to repay an equitable share to the other spouse. 

This doesn't mean that any big spending constitutes dissipation, but making a big purchase around the time of the divorce calls into question the intent behind the expenditure.

Some of the expenditures that may qualify as dissipation include:

  • Purchases for an affair
  • Gambling
  • Drugs

Participation in the dissipation of assets might mean you'll pay more in alimony or have your award reduced in the divorce decree.

Real Estate

Real estate assets are divided by negotiation. Whoever is awarded the house must refinance it to their name, and if that is not possible, the parties must sell the house instead. The spouse who does not live in the house holds no financial obligation to continue paying for the house, so the spouse who owns it must refinance and remove their spouse's name.

There are four ways to handle a jointly owned house:

  1. Wife buys out the husband
  2. Husband buys out the wife
  3. House is sold, and proceeds split equally
  4. Both spouses own the house together

Often, choice four is the last resort and only used when children are involved, so the house remains a stable home environment for them.

401k, IRA, Investments

Any 401k, IRA, or investments that began after the marriage are considered marital property and can be divided. A financial advisor can divide most of these investments, so each party holds equal value in its own name.

Any 401k, IRA, or investments held before the marriage is considered separate property, but the division of any post-marriage contributions and gains can get tricky. It is good to hire a financial advisor to help with this process.


Another potential point of contention in your divorce could be a jointly owned business venture. If the business began after the marriage, it is marital property, as it would be if you transmuted it from separate property. 

A business could have marital property if you've invested more into it after the marriage began or if both spouses work for the business as their primary employment.

An expert appraisal determines the actual value if the two parties offer opinions on the value, but they cannot agree. From there, the court considers fair market value, liquidation value, going concern value, book value, and cost value as they determine how to proceed.

Other Assets

The courts in Tennessee divide all assets equitably, regardless of type and value, as long as they meet the marital property requirement. The goal is to allow each spouse to maintain a similar standard of living.

Key Takeaways
Tennessee is an equitable division state, where assets are not necessarily divided 50/50, but in a way that fairly allows each spouse a respectable standard of living. Separate property is not divided as long as it isn't in a pre or postnuptial agreement, commingled, or transmuted.

Common Law Marriage Considerations in Tennessee 

Common law marriage means a couple has cohabitated or lived together for a specific amount of time. The relationship affords them the same protections, rights, and responsibilities as a married couple. 

Tennessee does not recognize common law marriage unless it was established in a different state before becoming a resident of Tennessee.

If you have an established common law marriage from another state and seek a divorce in Tennessee, the process is the same as with a traditional marriage with one exception: you must first prove the common law marriage is valid.

Once you meet that burden of proof, a divorce claim can continue. Some of the ways a couple can prove the validity of their common law marriage include:

  • Publicly declaring their marriage
  • Using the same surname
  • Filing income taxes jointly
  • Referring to each other as “spouse” or “husband and wife”
  • Having children
  • Claiming the other person as your “spouse” for employee health care benefits
  • Bankruptcy filed jointly as though married
  • Living together long-term
  • Joint finances
  • Co-ownership of a business
  • Providing money to the other person without any intent of recovery or interest
  • Any other evidence the court deems relevant.

Key Takeaways
As long as you meet the burden of proof, Tennessee recognizes common law marriage from other states, though you cannot enter into common law marriage as a Tennessee resident.

Alternatives To Divorce in Tennessee 

Divorce is not the only option when your marriage hits a rocky point. Nearly every marriage encounters a period of discontent or disconnect, but that doesn't automatically mean you should get divorced. There are several alternatives to divorce you might consider, too.

Legal Separation

Legal separation is not the same as a divorce. A legal separation offers few benefits, though it can allow for you to completely dissolve your financial obligations to each other while you determine whether an absolute divorce is right for you and your spouse.

Legal separation requires the same legal process as divorce, so it doesn't save any money. You should not rely on it to save time or finances but as a way to determine if you genuinely wish to dissolve your marriage permanently.

One of the problems with legal separation is that you might find yourself going through the entire process, which is exactly the same as an absolute divorce. Still, the judge could decide to hold off on property division. Eventually, the property will be equitably divided, just like in an absolute divorce.

Judges can decide to wait on that judgment until the end of the process. They'll also decide on child custody, alimony, child support, and more.

After two years from a decree of legal separation, you or your spouse can convert it to an absolute divorce without obtaining consent from the other spouse. If there is any disagreement at that point, you'll have to go through the process again, potentially costing thousands more in court fees.


In some cases, Tennessee courts allow a marriage to be annulled rather than filing for divorce. The difference is that annulment determines that the marriage never was valid, while divorce dissolves a valid marriage contract.

A few reasons serve as legal grounds for annulment, but it is up to the judge whether your marriage meets these requirements:

  • Insanity – one spouse could not consent to the marriage due to mental illness preventing them from understanding the contract.
  • Underage – if one or both spouses cannot legally consent due to age. The legal marriage age is 16 in Tennessee, though sometimes someone under 16 can get permission from a judge to get married. A judge's approval constitutes a valid marriage. If there was no approval from a judge, a minor under age 16's parents could file for annulment on their behalf.
  • Incest – if the spouses are related to each other more closely than first cousins, this constitutes incest. 
  • Bigamy – if either spouse has a living husband or wife at the time of the second marriage, the second marriage can be annulled.
  • Duress – if one party forced the other into the marriage without their consent, the marriage might be deemed invalid.
  • Fraud – if fraud related to the marriage occurred to convince one party to marry the other, this could be grounds for annulment. Some of the fraud possibilities include that the wife was already pregnant by another man or one spouse was sterilized before the marriage, and the other did not know.
  • Impotence – a permanent, pre-existing state of impotence, physically preventing one spouse from engaging in sexual intercourse.
  • Denial of marital rights – if one spouse refuses to live with the other or engage sexually, the marriage could be invalid. This requires that the two have never lived together, nor have they ever had sexual intercourse with each other.

If a court grants your annulment, you cannot ever say you were married to each other because the contract was never valid or legally binding.

One other way a marriage can be annulled is if your minister was ordained online and the state of Tennessee does not recognize their online ordination. Tennessee law specifically prohibits marriages performed by Universal Life Church ministers, which means if they performed your marriage, it might not be valid.

Work It Out Together

In a perfect world, we could all easily reconcile our differences with those who have wronged us or maintain relationships despite falling out of love. Working out your marital differences might be an excellent choice for you in place of filing for divorce.

While not everyone finds success with working things out together, it is especially beneficial when children are involved, so you maintain normalcy and structure as they grow up.

Sometimes reconciliation isn't possible, but unless you're in a situation that puts you or your children's lives in danger, attempting to work through your differences could surprise you. Of course, if you are in danger, there is no reason to stay in that situation, and you should always prioritize your and your children's safety.

Seek Counseling

If you want to work through your marriage problems but don't know how to do it on your own, marriage counseling is a great option. Be sure you take the time to vet your counselors and choose one with sufficient experience with marriages and a good reputation.

Putting your marriage in someone else's hands can be scary. Still, with the proper qualifications and experience, a marriage counselor can help redirect your marriage to a place of appreciation, love, and partnership again. 

Seeking counseling means you're willing to do whatever it takes to preserve your relationship before deciding that nothing is left to save. As with working it out, this may not be the best option for you if you are in danger.

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Open Marriage

Occasionally, partners consider divorce because they've grown bored in the relationship and want to try something new. Sometimes this means getting out into the world and seeing what other relationships would be like.

Assuming both partners are open to the idea, an open marriage would allow both you and your spouse to forge new relationships, try new things, and even strengthen your bond with each other. 

One of the benefits some couples find in an open marriage is a newfound appreciation for the other partner, as you realize what you expect from each other. Bringing new experiences into your marriage, sharing new perspectives, and setting goals and intentions together builds strength and could save you from divorce.

Open marriage is not a solution for every marriage. It can cause more damage in some relationships, so you and your spouse want to be sure you want to do before entering into any agreements.

Read More: Dating while going through a divorce

Parenting Marriage 

A parenting marriage is where spouses stay married solely to raise their minor children. This is an excellent choice for parents who want to divorce amicably and have no violence or hostility within the home. 

You can do this in several ways, including sharing the entire home, splitting different areas of the house for each partner, or even sharing residences where when a parent has their parenting time with the kids. In this situation, one spouse lives in the house while the other temporarily relocates to an apartment they share. 

Each parent would take turns living with the kids and then living in their separate apartment to maintain consistency and routine for the children. 

With a parenting marriage, both spouses act as friends and partners, making all parenting decisions together, encouraging and supporting the children as though still completely married, and remaining positive and supportive to each other.

A parenting marriage doesn't have the same relationship status as a traditional marriage as far as interactions such as sleeping in the same room or sexual relations. It is effectively two friends living together for the sake of raising kids, who just happen to both be their parents.

Parenting marriage is tricky and can lead to more division and discontent if the spouses cannot stay reasonable and mature about the process.

Key Takeaways
Divorce might not be the only option if you feel your marriage has neared the end of its run. Whether you legally separate first or try to work through things together, divorce does not have to be the first choice. It is possible to stay married and change the nature of your relationship, too. You can have an open marriage where you see other people or a parenting marriage where you remain friendly and live together to raise the kids. Whatever you choose, divorce is still an option if the alternatives don't work out.