How to Get a Divorce in Tennessee

When many of us think of divorce, we think of the big cinematic fights, thick manilla envelopes tossed on countertops, and utter chaos. But the reality is that divorce probably won’t look like that for many people. In fact, many couples looking to separate may not even know how to get a divorce in Tennessee.

Divorce law looks different in every state. Our legal experts are here to answer your questions about the divorce process, divorce requirements, and the other intricacies of TN divorce law.

Exploring the Tennessee Divorce Process

Most people facing the prospect of separation might not even know how to file for divorce in TN. Let’s walk through the process, starting from the beginning:

Step One: Filing a Complaint

The first step to getting a divorce in Tennessee is to file a complaint. The person who files the complaint, or petition for divorce, first is called the plaintiff. In addition to the complaint, the state also requires that a certificate of divorce also be filed.

Upon filing both required petitions, the Clerk of Court will issue a summons. The divorce formally begins when the other spouse has been served the summons and the complaint.

  • For residents of Davidson, Williamson, and Shelby counties, a sheriff’s deputy or a private process server will serve the Complaint and Summons on the other spouse.
  • Divorce papers can also be served via mail. The individual being served will receive a Waiver of Service of Process, which acknowledges that they have received the divorce suit.

There are certain criteria that must be met for a divorce to be granted. This can include place of residence for the last six months, if you are expecting a child together, etc.

Residency Requirements for Divorce in Tennessee

Some couples may realize shortly after getting married that getting divorced is the best option, while others may be married for years before they decide divorce is necessary. You might think that when you feel ready to divorce your spouse, you’re able to do so. However, in many states, including Tennessee, this isn’t necessarily true.

According to TN Code § 36-4-104, you can file for divorce in Tennessee in the following situations:

  • The acts complained of were committed while the plaintiff was a bona fide resident of Tennessee.
  • The acts complained of were committed outside of Tennessee and the plaintiff resided out of the state at the time, if the plaintiff or the defendant has resided in this state six months preceding the filing of the complaint.

Additionally, a member of the armed services living in Tennessee for at least one year, or their spouse, may be considered a resident of the state. In most situations, papers are filed in the county where the couple lived before they separated.

In some cases, such as if domestic violence or abuse is involved, there may be exceptions to Tennessee’s residency requirements for filing for divorce. Depending on where you live, you may be able to resolve your divorce without going to court.

Exploring Grounds for Divorce in TN

TN Code § 36-4-101 lists fifteen grounds for divorce from the bonds of matrimony. Some of these grounds for divorce in TN include adultery as marital misconduct, an allegation of inappropriate marital conduct, or impotence and the inability to procreate.

What is the difference between a contested and uncontested divorce in Tennessee?

A contested divorce must state the ground(s) for divorce (other than irreconcilable differences) upon which the Complaint is based. Generally speaking, “Contested” means the parties don’t necessarily agree on the reason for the divorce or what should happen next.

An uncontested divorce in TN means both parties agree the marriage failed because of irreconcilable differences. To get an uncontested divorce in Tennessee, the parties must reach an agreement regarding the division of their property and the custody of their children.

Uncontested divorces are usually finalized quicker and are generally less expensive. To get an uncontested divorce in Tennessee, the parties must reach an agreement regarding the division of their property and the custody of their children. Mediation is often required in contested divorce cases. Most of the time, the parties split the cost of mediation.

Step 2: Answer and Counter-Complaint

Once your spouse has been served the divorce complaint, the next step in the divorce process in TN is the answer and counter-complaint.

In this step of the process, most recipients of the original complaint about divorce will answer and file a countersuit, known as the counter-complaint. This does the same thing as the original complaint, but against the original plaintiff. However, you can still get divorced even if your spouse doesn’t participate in the legal action.

In most cases, the counter-complaint will deny any allegations made in the original complaint and request the complaint be dismissed. It will also request similar action as was requested by the plaintiff.

Many divorce complaints request no-fault grounds. In a no-fault divorce, there is nothing to prove, just that the couple is no longer compatible. However, there are other forms of divorce in Tennessee. They include:

  • Agreed divorce
  • No-fault divorce
  • Divorce based on fault-grounds

Agreed Divorce

TN divorce law describes the following criteria for an agreed divorce, in which both individuals agree to the following and qualify for a simplified version of the divorce process that does not necessarily need to go through court:

  • Both have lived in Tennessee for at least six months
  • They have no shared children who are under 18, disabled, or still in high school
  • They are not expecting a child
  • Both want to end the marriage
  • The couples do not co-own buildings, land, a business, or retirement benefits
  • Both agree on alimony and how property will be divided
  • Both agree to sign the Divorce Agreement

No-Fault Divorce

In a no-fault divorce, neither party is considered to blame for the divorce. The petitioner is not required to provide evidence that the defendant has committed a breach of marital contract. In most Tennessee divorces, the couple will allege no-fault grounds.


In a fault-divorce, the Tennessee divorce process can become quite complicated because there needs to be proof that misconduct occurred which caused the couple to break up. A divorce granted on the grounds of adultery can affect alimony and equitable distribution.

There are stricter Tennessee divorce requirements for fault-divorce, since one must prove that the other is at fault in some way that matches TN’s legally recognized grounds for divorce. The type of divorce being contested will determine the next course of action, which in many cases is a settlement. However, in fault-divorces, the divorce will most likely go to trial.

Step 3: Discovery

If the couple decides to not go into a settlement right away, the next step in the Tennessee divorce process is discovery. This process begins with filing Interrogatories, which are questions that must be answered under oath. In addition, a request for production of documents will also be required.

Other forms of discovery include depositions, subpoenas, and Requests for Admissions. How the parties respond determines how quickly the discovery process will go and how much it will cost the couple. This is dependent on the side of the marital estate in most cases.

Step 4: Final Divorce Hearing

The final step in the Tennessee divorce process is typically a court hearing.

Once forms have been filed, documents approved and any mediation has occurred, you can file for your final divorce hearing. This is common in no-fault divorces where the couple has likely already agreed to terms without legal action and their respective attorneys have walked them through the terms of the divorce.

At the final hearing, a judge will review all forms, ask any questions that may arise, and approve the divorce. While only the plaintiff must attend the hearing, it is best both individuals attend so the process can occur without issue and any flaws in documentation can be handled.

Once the hearing is over, any appeal may be made within 30 days. A Final Decree of Divorce can often be modified if you can prove a significant change in circumstances since the divorce was granted.

How does the judge divide assets in a divorce in TN?

When it comes to dividing assets, there’s a difference between marital property and separate property. Executing a marital dissolution agreement allows you and your spouse to determine what happens with your assets, etc. Otherwise, a judge makes the determination. Tennessee is an equitable distribution state; distribution of marital property is defined in TN § 36-4-121.

How long does a divorce take in TN?

Regardless of how complicated your divorce is or whether it’s contested or uncontested, there is a certain amount of time you’ll need to wait. After you file your divorce petition, for couples without minor children, TN divorce laws have a waiting period of 60 days. For couples with minor children, this period is 90 days.

Get Help Through the Entire Tennessee Divorce Process with MHPS

If you’ve recently moved to Tennessee, you might be wondering where you’re supposed to file for divorce. Likewise, you may have many questions about Tennessee divorce laws. You don’t want to take any chances—which is why you should work with MHPS.

Divorce represents a difficult time in your life. Our family law experts bring compassion and understanding to your circumstances to help you find the best resolution for the Tennessee divorce process so you and your ex-spouse can move on.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation for the expert legal advice and assistance you need to navigate the landscape of divorce in Tennessee.

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You don’t have to face a legal case alone. Get the support and guidance you need to make informed decisions and navigate the complexities of the law. Reach out today, and let’s take the first step together.