The Summary Guide to a Tennessee Divorce

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Every case is unique

This guide must be tailored to the special facts and circumstances of each case. I recommend speaking with a lawyer to learn more about how this general guide fits your special case.

  1. Filing a Complaint for Divorce

    In order to officially begin a divorce, a Complaint for Divorce must be filed with the Court. Filing for divorce requires submitting a legal document, known as a “Complaint for Divorce" in the appropriate Circuit or Chancery Court of the appropriate County.

  2. Service of Process

    The person who files for divorce must prove that the divorce petition was given to the other spouse through legal means. Often a sheriff's deputy, constable, or private process service assist with serving the other spouse; however, it is also common for the spouse to formally waive service if the divorce is uncontested and a formal Marital Dissolution Agreement has been signed.

  3. Temporary Orders

    If necessary, a judge may give “temporary orders” that tell you what to do until a final divorce order is issued. Temporary orders cover may cover issues such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, property, payment of bills and insurance premiums, and who may live in the marital residence.

  4. Filing an Answer to the Complaint

    The other spouse has the right to respond to the Complaint for Divorce. If they disagree, they can dispute the grounds or other allegations, such as proposed asset division, child custody, alimony, child support, attorney's fees, or other issues. 

    If both parties agree to the terms of divorce, they have an uncontested divorce. This is the fastest and least expensive route and may allow you to skip certain steps listed herein. .

  5. Mediation & Negotiation

    Mediation is a process where the parties and you attorneys will meet with a mediator, sometimes all together in the same room and sometimes in separate rooms. The mediator is a neutral third party who is trained to help facilitate settlements and resolve the issues related to the divorce. During this process, the parties and attorney will negotiate, through the mediator, to hopefully reach a fair settlement.

  6. Discovery

    Discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit, such as a divorce, in which each party investigates the facts of a case, through the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, by obtaining evidence from the opposing party and witnesses. This may be completed through various discovery devices, such as submitting interrogatories, which are written questions that must be answered under oath by the opposing party, or conducting a deposition, which is when a person appears at a specified time and place and gives sworn testimony --under oath, with a court reporter present so that a record is made. This is typically one of the most expensive aspects of a case.

  7. Trial

    If you can’t resolve the issues before, during, or after mediation through informal negotiations, the divorce will go to trial for the judge to decide on all of the issues after hearing testimony and reviewing proof. Going to court takes longer, costs more money and has unpredictable results. Generally, the absolute most contested and hostile cases are the ones that go this far, as most cases settle prior to this phase.

JAMES R. COOK, II (J.R.)