Understanding the Divorce Process in Tennessee

Understanding the Divorce Process in Tennessee

An overview of the divorce process.

Divorce can be an emotionally frightening experience.  Our goal is to help you understand the different phases of a divorce and what to expect should you ever go through one.

Grounds for Divorce

There are multiple grounds upon which to obtain a divorce in Tennessee, including adultery, abandonment, cruel and inhuman treatment (also known as inappropriate marital conduct), and others.  These are typically known as ‘fault based’ grounds for divorce.  It is important to allege the proper grounds for divorce based on the facts of your case.  In addition to the fault-based grounds for divorce, Tennessee also allows married couples to divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.  A divorce based on irreconcilable differences can only be obtained if you and your spouse can reach an agreement on how to handle all of the divorce details, including the distribution of marital property, child custody, and child support.  

Complaint for Divorce

The Complaint is the document alleging the grounds for divorce that will be filed with the Court to initiate the divorce process.  The Complaint must be filed with other mandatory documents, with which your attorney will be familiar.  At the time your Complaint is filed, you and your spouse are bound by certain specific rules imposed by the Court.  Both parties are prohibited from: dissipating or disposing of any marital property; terminating or allowing any insurance policy to lapse if it provides coverage to either of the parties or children; harassing, threatening, or assaulting the other party; hiding or destroying evidence; relocating any children outside the state of Tennessee or more than 50 miles from the marital home; and other rules.  These orders are detailed and specific and you will be held to them.  It is important to discuss these with your attorney so you have a full understanding of what they mean.  The Court will hold you responsible for following all requirements, so take this seriously.

Service of Process

The petition must be properly served on the opposing party, and the Court must have proof of this.  Your lawyer will be able to help you with this to ensure that your case is served properly.  


Venue is simply where the case will be filed and heard.  In Tennessee, a divorce may be filed in the county where the parties reside at the time of their separation, or the county in which the defendant resides if he or she is a resident of Tennessee.  If the defendant is not a resident of Tennessee, then the Complaint can be filed in the county where the applicant resides.  

Answer to Complaint for Divorce

If you are served with a Complaint for Divorce, it is important that you file an Answer with the Court.  If you fail to submit your Answer to the Court, your spouse could be granted a divorce through default judgment and you give up several important rights.  Be sure to contact an attorney immediately to discuss your options if you have been served with a Complaint for Divorce.

Waiting Period

In Tennessee, a Complaint for Divorce must be on file for at least 60 days before being heard if there are no minor children from the relationship, and at least 90 days if there are minor children from the relationship.  A minor is any unmarried child under the age of 18.  The waiting period starts on the date that the Complaint for Divorce is filed.  


“Discovery” is how both sides of the dispute gather information and facts needed for the case.  Often, one spouse does not have a clear picture of the couple’s finances, or they may not know what debts the couple has incurred throughout the course of the marriage.  It is important to know these things so you can equitably divide the marital property and you do not get short-changed out of your share of your assets.  The discovery process requires great attention to detail as records are gathered to support your position.  A trained divorce attorney can help you throughout the discovery process.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

In Tennessee, Courts typically order the parties to engage in mediation to try and resolve any conflicts before they will be heard by a Judge.  Mediation provides a great opportunity to resolve conflicts and settle cases before going to trial.  People often find that settling a case at mediation is preferable to going to trial because you have more control over the terms of the settlement, as opposed to trial where the Judge makes the final decision.  


If, however, you are unable to reach an agreement on how to settle your case, it will proceed to trial.  Trials can be incredibly stressful because of the stakes involved and the fact that the fate of your case lays in the hands of a Judge who has heard only a few days’ worth of evidence about you and your situation.  Trials can also be very expensive because of the amount of preparation that is required by a lawyer before trial.  As a result, sometimes people decide they would prefer to settle the case through mediation prior to going to trial.

What’s Next?

The attorneys at Schell  & Oglesby are standing by to help you throughout the stressful and emotional divorce process.  We are experienced litigators who have collectively handled thousands of domestic cases.  Whether you desire to reach a settlement or take your case through trial, we are prepared to represent your wishes and fight for your rights every step of the way.  We look forward to meeting you and helping you achieve the solutions you seek.