The Tennessee Divorce Process

Before a party can file for divorce in Tennessee, either spouse must have been a resident of Tennessee for at least six (6) months prior to the filing.

  • If either party has been a resident for such duration, the next step is filing a complaint for divorce in the appropriate court in Tennessee. Once the complaint is filed, a summons will be issued for the non-filing spouse. The complaint and a summons must be served on the non-filing spouse.
    • Tennessee has mandatory waiting periods after a complaint is filed before a divorce can be granted depending on whether minor children are involved.
    • If there are no minor children between the parties, they must wait only sixty (60) days from filing the complaint until the divorce can be granted.
    • If there are minor children between the parties, they must wait ninety (90) days from filing the complaint until the divorce can be granted.
  • Once a complaint for divorce has been filed, temporary motions can be filed, including, but not limited to, motion for spousal support, motions for child support, motions for custody of minor children, and motions regarding which party can live in the marital residence during the pendency of the divorce.
  • After the complaint is filed, the non-filing spouse can answer the complaint and file a counter-complaint if they wish. They have thirty (30) days from service to answer and/or counter-claim.
    • If the non-filing spouse does not answer, there may be a default judgment against them, meaning the court assumes they agree with the terms stated in the complaint for divorce.
  • After an answer and/or counter-complaint is filed, the next steps depend on whether or not the parties can agree on a distribution of assets and child care and custody.
    • If the parties can agree, they can exchange information (often called discovery) between each other without involving the court and agree to a distribution of the assets and child custody.
    • If the parties cannot agree, they can either go to mediation or go through a formal discovery process involving the court, often after a divorce is set for trial (see below).
      • Mediation entails both parties sitting down, separately or together, with a Rule 31 Mediator to go over all marital assets in order to determine who will obtain such assets. If minor children are involved, the parties must also agree in mediation to the care and custody of such children. This is called a Parenting Plan. If the parties agree to a distribution and to care and custody at mediation, the case moves to a final hearing. If the parties cannot agree at mediation, the case will be set for trial.
  • If the divorce is set for trial, formal discovery exchanges will ensue and depositions are possibly held.
  • At the trial, the judge will rule who is granted a divorce, who obtains certain marital assets, and will resolve any outstanding parenting issues, such as who is the primary residential parent, who is entitled to child support, and what amount of child support is appropriate.
  • The judge can rule immediately at the close of the trial or take additional time to make a ruling. After the judge makes a ruling, either party has thirty (30) days to appeal the decision.