Tennessee Divorce After Desertion

by Beverly Bird

Tennessee recognizes a total of 13 different fault grounds for divorce, some of them quite creative. The state also allows spouses to file for divorce on two no-fault grounds. With so many options, it may not be necessary to wait out a statutory time period so you can file on grounds of desertion, unless that time has already passed when you decide to initiate divorce proceedings. Before you file, consult an attorney to choose the alternative that best suits your personal situation.

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Waiting Periods

Three of Tennessee's fault grounds relate to desertion. One is “willful desertion,” which means your spouse left you with the intention of not returning. He must remain gone for a year before you can file on grounds of willful desertion. If you moved to Tennessee from another state, and if your spouse refused to move with you and remained behind, this is also grounds for divorce. However, you must wait two years to file. Neither waiting period is really necessary because Tennessee courts will also grant a divorce for abandonment if your spouse leaves you, or if he bans you from the marital home and forces you to move elsewhere. Under these circumstances, no waiting period is required. As long as you lived in the state at the time your spouse deserted you or forced you out, you can file for divorce immediately.


Tennessee courts will order temporary maintenance or alimony after you file for divorce if your spouse left you and is refusing to help you pay bills. This temporary support stays in effect until the time of your final decree. If you choose one of the first two desertion grounds, you’d have to make ends meet on your own while you waited out the statutory time period. However, if you file on grounds of abandonment, you can simultaneously submit a motion for temporary support -- and for child support, if you have children -- at the time you file your complaint.

Effect on Divorce

Filing for divorce on fault grounds, such as abandonment or desertion, can be financially advantageous in Tennessee. Although the courts will not consider fault when distributing marital property, the law permits judges to include it as a factor when making decisions about permanent alimony or spousal maintenance after your divorce is final.

Other Options

If you’re not concerned with casting blame when you file for divorce, Tennessee also allows you to file on no-fault grounds of irreconcilable differences. If your spouse has deserted you, he probably wants to end the marriage as much as you do. If he's willing to negotiate a marital settlement agreement, you can submit the agreement to the court and be divorced in a relatively short period of time. Your divorce won't involve a trial or undue court involvement. With a settlement agreement, Tennessee will grant your divorce two months after you file if you don’t have children, and after three months if you do have children.