Checklist for No-Fault Divorce in Tennessee

by Shannon Johnson

Tennessee has two types of divorces, fault and no-fault. Fault divorces are granted on the premise that one party has done something wrong. Some examples of fault grounds for divorce include adultery, infertility, bigamy and being convicted of a felony. In a no-fault divorce action, neither party is deemed to be at fault. No-fault divorces are relatively simple and are well suited for couples that have few assets and debts. No-fault divorces are relatively popular because they are over within three to four months and are much cheaper than a fault divorce.

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Basics of No-Fault Divorce

No-fault divorces are typically granted on the basis of “irreconcilable differences.” You can also file for a no-fault divorce if you and your spouse have lived separate for more than two years and have no minor children. No-fault divorces can be granted on the basis of an agreement between the parties or a default judgment if your spouse does not reply or appear for the hearing. After filing the complaint, the waiting period before a final hearing and judgment of divorce can be entered is 60 days for couples with no children, and 90 days if there are minor children. Individuals must have lived in Tennessee for at least six months before they can file a no-fault divorce action.

Getting the Process Started -- Filing the Complaint

The spouse who is filing for divorce will go to either the circuit or chancery clerk of court to file a complaint for no-fault divorce. Some clerks will provide no-fault complaint forms. If not, use a sample form to help you draft a complaint using the correct wording, because mistakes can cause unnecessary delays. The Tennessee State Courts website also provides forms that may be used. Fees for a no-fault divorce will vary from county to county. For example, in one county you might have to pay a filing fee, a Sheriff’s service fee and possibly other court costs, while in another county, one filing fee covers everything.

Fee Waivers and Cash Bonds

Low-income individuals can complete an indigency affidavit if the filing fee proves to be too expensive. Be aware that even if you qualify, the filing fees are only deferred, not waived. Eventually, you or your spouse will be required to pay them. Some counties also require the posting of a cash bond. If the court requires that your spouse pay all costs, this bond will be refunded. The best way to be prepared for the expenses is to call your county clerk of court's office before you go in so you know what fees you will have to pay.

Your Spouse’s Opportunity to Respond

Once filed, the complaint is served or delivered by your county sheriff's department to your spouse. A summons is attached to the complaint that notifies your spouse of the suit and the time limit to respond or answer. Even if your spouse doesn’t respond, she will be able to attend the final hearing to have a say in the court's final order.

Resolving Marital Issues

The marital dissolution agreement is a document that covers how you and your spouse will handle the division of marital debt, assets and retirement accounts, along with alimony payments, if any. Couples with children can file for a no-fault divorce as long as they work out a parenting plan, which will cover visitation and custody. In addition, between the time you file and appear at the final hearing, you will need to attend the mandatory parental training program and provide the certificate of completion to the judge at the final hearing, if not sooner. Once the marital dissolution agreement is signed, and witnessed by a notary, it should be filed with the clerk of court.

Additional Documents That Need to Be Filed

Depending on your particular county’s rules, you might be required to file one or more of the following: a civil case cover sheet, which provides basic details about the parties and designates the complaint as a divorce; an insurance coverage notice that informs your spouse that insurance coverage is ending; a wage assignment and deduction order, which orders a child support payment to be deducted from one parent's account; and a qualified domestic relations order, known as QDRO, if there will be a disbursement from a spouse’s retirement account.

Getting Your Day in Court

When the 60- or 90-day time period after filing your compliant is drawing to close, you will need to request a hearing. Don’t wait too long; if 180 days passes after signing your marital dissolution agreement, you will have to refile the entire divorce. In most counties, you will simply call the clerk’s office and request to be placed on the no-fault divorce hearing schedule. Normally, the court will require you to give your spouse five days' notice of the hearing. The best way to do this is via mail. Unless there is a filed marital financial agreement, the court prefers to see both parties in court. But one party's failure to attend will not prevent the divorce from occurring; the judge will issue a default judgment.

The Hearing

No-fault divorce hearings normally take less than ten minutes, although you might have to sit a while until your case is called. Once called, the judge will ask you about 10 questions regarding your marriage. Make sure to have the following documents with you: parenting plan, parenting class certificate, wage assignment/deduction order, QDRO and Title IV-D state information reporting form if your children receive state assistance. Additionally, the judge will address any requests for name changes and assign court costs.

Final Judgment

After the hearing, the judge will sign an order called a Final Decree of Divorce. This document is your legal proof of the divorce, name restoration, if any, and court cost assignment. You will need a a certified copy in order to change any of your financial or legal information to pre-marriage status. If there are any other documents that will have an effect on future events, like wage deduction or QDRO, getting a certified copy of these documents is a good idea as well.