The process for obtaining a divorce in Tennessee hinges on the ability of spouses to agree. If a couple can find common ground, the procedure is more streamlined and will avoid trial. However, for standard contested cases, the court will first attempt to foster agreement between parties, both privately and through mediation. If agreement still cannot be reached, the matter will proceed to trial and be resolved by a judge.
In Tennessee, a divorce starts with filing a complaint in the county where you separated from your spouse or the county where your spouse resides, if he or she is a resident of the state. If not, the complaint may be filed in the county where you reside. The complaint specifies the grounds for divorce, and includes requests for property division, support and custody. This document, along with a summons, must be personally served on the other spouse. The law requires that the process server be over the age of 18. Following service, the responding spouse has 30 days in which to file a written response, known as an answer. The answer needs to address each request and fact alleged in the complaint, and may include counterclaims.
If a divorcing couple has minor children, both parents must attend a parenting class before the divorce will be granted. If an agreement on custody cannot be reached, the court may order parents to also attend mediation. In certain cases, the judge may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the child.
A judge in Tennessee has discretion to order mediation regarding economic issues. These issues include matters of property division and spousal support, also known as alimony. If attempts to reach agreement fail, the matter will proceed to trial and be decided in court. The process works just like a traditional lawsuit and either party may request advance notice of the evidence that the other party plans to use at trial, a process known as discovery. At trial, each spouse can present personal testimony and question witnesses as well as submit evidence indicating the value of property or available income. A judge will hear both sides and make a decision.
Once a Tennessee court issues a divorce decree, the two parties have 30 days in which to appeal the decision. This process requires filing a Notice of Appeal; the appellate court will review the case to see if the lower court followed the law correctly. In addition to appealing the case, either party may request a modification of custody or the support amount, if there has been a material change in circumstances.