It may seem unfair that you have to toe the line in certain respects to effectuate a personal decision such as a divorce, but any time you involve the court, this is invariably the case. You can't get a divorce in Tennessee -- or elsewhere -- unless you follow certain rules and meet certain requirements.
Like all states, Tennessee requires that at least one spouse reside in the jurisdiction before you can file for divorce there. Some states have relatively simple residency requirements, but they're a bit more complicated in Tennessee. If your cause of action – the reason you want a divorce – happened in the state, you're free to file with no waiting period. If your cause of action occurred elsewhere, however, and you weren't a Tennessee resident at the time, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for six months.
Selecting Your Grounds
Tennessee's list of recognized divorce grounds is creative and extensive. It includes everything from your spouse trying to poison you to her refusal to move to Tennessee with you. Other fault grounds include the usual standards, such as adultery, desertion and cruelty. Tennessee's no-fault grounds are irreconcilable differences. If you file on fault grounds, you must provide the court with proof that they actually occurred and that your spouse's transgression was so severe, it warrants ending the marriage. If you file on grounds of irreconcilable differences, you and your spouse must simply agree that your marriage can't be saved.
Serving the Complaint
Tennessee law is also somewhat unique with its requirements for due process of your divorce complaint -- at least if you file on no-fault grounds. If you file on fault grounds, you must serve your spouse with your divorce complaint by certified mail, or have the sheriff or a private process server deliver a copy to him. If you file on grounds of irreconcilable differences, however, you don't have to officially serve him. You need only provide the court with a marital settlement agreement signed by both of you, but the agreement must include the docket number of your case and a statement by your spouse that he's aware you've filed for divorce.
Mediation is required for most contested divorces in Tennessee. Through mediation, the court encourages divorcing couples to try to decide things like property division and custody on their own instead of having a judge rule on the issues at trial. Mediation involves working with a trained professional who helps you and your spouse come to an agreement that works for the whole family. You must attend within six months of filing your complaint for divorce.
In addition to mediation, Tennessee also requires that spouses with children attend a parenting class. You can't be divorced until a parenting plan, detailing issues of custody and visitation, is in place. You can negotiate the plan with your spouse, or the court can order one if mediation fails and a judge has to decide custody issues at trial.
Tennessee is one of several states that impose a waiting period before your divorce can be final, but it's mostly applicable if you filed on grounds of irreconcilable differences and your divorce is uncontested, meaning you've reached an agreement on all issues. The period is 90 days if you have children and 60 days if you do not. The clock begins ticking when you file your complaint for divorce. If you file on fault grounds and your divorce is contested, it will probably take much longer than 90 days to iron out an agreement or have the court make a ruling at trial.