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Know the Laws: Tennessee

UPDATED April 21, 2017

Below is basic information about divorce in Tennessee.

back to topWhat are the residency requirements for divorce in Tennessee?

The judge can grant you a divorce in Tennessee if:

  • the event that caused you to file for divorce happened while you were a resident of Tennessee; or
  • the event that caused you to file for divorce happened outside of Tennessee and you lived in another state at that time if you or your spouse lived in Tennessee for six months before filing the complaint for divorce.*

Note: A person stationed in Tennessee for at least a year as a member of the armed services is considered to be a Tennessee resident.*

* TN ST § 36-4-104

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back to topWhat are the grounds for divorce in Tennessee?

Grounds are legally acceptable reasons for divorce.  A judge can grant a divorce if your spouse:

  • was impotent and incapable of reproducing at the time of the marriage;
  • married you while still married to someone else;
  • committed adultery (cheated on you);
  • deserted you or was absent for one year without a reasonable explanation;
  • was convicted of an “infamous crime”;
  • was convicted of a felony and sentenced to a prison/jail;
  • attempted to poison or kill you;
  • refused to move to Tennessee with you without a reasonable explanation and didn’t live with you for two years while you were living in Tennessee;
  • was pregnant with another person’s child at the time of marriage and you didn’t know;
  • began to habitually use drugs or alcohol starting after the date of your marriage;
  • engages in inappropriate marital conduct, cruel and inhuman treatment, or behavior that makes living together unsafe;
  • treats you so horribly that being with him/her is impossible and you have to leave;
  • abandons you or tells you to leave without any reason and does not support you financially;
  • has irreconcilable differences with you; or
  • has lived separate from you in a different home, has not lived with you as a spouse, and does not have any minor children in common with you.*

* TN ST § 36-4-101(a)

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back to topCan I get alimony?

Alimony (also called maintenance) is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse.  The judge will decide whether or not to grant you alimony.  To make that decision and to decide the appropriate amount and length of an alimony award, a judge will consider several factors, including your and your spouse’s:

  • financial needs and the ability to meet those needs;
  • earning capacity and resources, including pensions, profit sharing, and retirement plans;
  • education and training and need for more education or training to increase earning capacity;
  • length of marriage;
  • age and mental condition;
  • physical condition;
  • children under 18 years old (if any), which would make it undesirable to work outside of the home;
  • separate assets or property;
  • standard of living during the marriage;
  • contributions as a homemaker, help with the other spouse’s training, education, or increased earning capacity of your spouse;
  • fault in contributing to the divorce; and
  • The judge can consider any other factors necessary to come to a fair decision, including the potential tax consequences to you and your spouse.*

* TN ST § 36-5-121(i)

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back to topWhat types of alimony are available?

Alimony is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse.  If you suffer economically because you relied on your spouse for support and were a homemaker or parent during your marriage, the judge will try to make sure that your standard of living is the same after your marriage as it was during your marriage if possible.*

There are four types of alimony in Tennessee:

Rehabilitative Alimony

The judge may award you rehabilitative alimony to help you get to the point where you can have same standard of living that you had during your marriage.  Rehabilitative alimony will stop if you or your spouse die.*1

Periodic Alimony

The judge may award you periodic alimony on a long-term basis if there is a big difference between your and your spouse’s income, and even with effort, you would be unable to have the same standard of living you had during the marriage.  Periodic alimony ends on the date that the judge sets or if you remarry or die.*2

Transitional Alimony

Transitional alimony is awarded for a specific period of time to help you adjust to being divorced, separated, or having a restraining order issued (if you are granted alimony through a restraining order).  Transitional alimony cannot be changed unless:

  1. You and your spouse agree to a change in the original court order.;
  2. The judge orders that the alimony award can be changed in the original court order; or
  3. You live with someone else (a “third party”).

If you live with a third party, the judge will presume (but you can present evidence otherwise), that the third party is either supporting you or you are supporting the third party, and therefore you do not need the same amount of alimony.*3

Lump Sum Alimony

Lump sum alimony is ordered for a long-term, specific period of time to help provide you with financial support.  It can be paid all at once (in a “lump sum”) or broken up into installments (paid over time).  Lump sum alimony can only be changed if you and your spouse agree to a change, and it will not end if you remarry or die.*4

* TN ST § 36-5-121(c)(2)
*1 TN ST § 36-5-121(2),(3)
*2 TN ST § 36-5-121(f)(1)
*3 TN ST § 36-5-121(g)(1)
*4 TN ST § 36-5-121(h)(1),(2),(3)

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back to topWhat are the basic steps for filing for divorce?

While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps that a person may have to follow to obtain a divorce:

  • First, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirements of the state you want to file in.
  • Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
  • Third, you must file the appropriate divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse - for the exact rules for serving the papers, contact your local courthouse or an attorney.
  • Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, then s/he will have the opportunity to file papers telling her/his side.  In his/her response, the other party may express his/her opinion challenging the divorce, asking that it be granted under different grounds or letting the judge know that s/he agrees to the divorce.  If your spouse contests the divorce, then you may have a series of court appearances to sort the issues out.  Also, if a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway.  (Speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers before you can continue with the divorce.)
  • Fifth, if there are property, assets, a pension, debts, or anything else that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, then these issues may have to be dealt with during the divorce or else you may lose your chance to deal with these issues.  The issues may be worked out during settlement negotiations and incorporated into the divorce decree or in a series of court hearings during the divorce.  Custody and child support may also be decided as part of your divorce.

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back to topWhere can I find additional information about divorce laws in Tennessee?

Legal Aid of East Tennessee has a divorce booklet that discusses grounds for divorce and residency requirements.

Tennessee State Courts has court forms that you may need for your divorce.

WomensLaw.org is unrelated to the above organizations and cannot vouch for the accuracy of their sites.  We provide these links for your information only.

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