Tennessee Divorce Laws

by David Carnes
Substance abuse is a ground for divorce in Tennessee.

Substance abuse is a ground for divorce in Tennessee.

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Tennessee divorce law is based on the Tennessee Code and covers all major issues likely to arise in a divorce, including grounds for divorce, property division, child custody, child support and alimony. Tennessee courts encourage divorcing spouses to agree on as many matters as possible and will typically approve any negotiated or mediated divorce settlement.

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Tennessee recognizes two types of divorce – fault and no-fault. If both spouses agree to the divorce, they may simply cite “irreconcilable differences” as their grounds for divorce without providing any additional details. If they have no minor children, they also have the option of using a two-year separation period as their no-fault ground for divorce. Fault grounds in Tennessee include grounds typically available in other states, such as adultery, bigamy and felony conviction. Tennessee also recognizes attempted murder of your spouse as grounds for divorce.

Property Division

Two systems of property division are prevalent in U.S. divorce law – the community property system and equitable distribution system. Like most states, Tennessee divides a divorcing couple's property using the "equitable distribution" method. Equitable distribution essentially means fair distribution, which gives Tennessee courts wide discretion in distributing property between divorcing spouses. A 50/50 split is used as a starting point, which is then adjusted according to various factors, such as the earning power of each spouse, tax consequences of the distribution and length of the marriage. If spouses reach a written agreement on property division, courts are inclined to respect it unless it is found to be unfair.

Child Custody

As in all other states, Tennessee’s guiding principle in child custody determinations is the “best interests of the child.” When minor children are involved in a divorce, the parents are required to complete a four-hour parenting class. The court will also ask the spouses to jointly create a parenting plan that allocates parental responsibilities between them, subject to court approval. If they cannot agree on a plan, the court will order them to participate in mediation. If mediation fails, the court will issue its own child custody ruling and incorporate it into the final divorce decree.

Child Support

Child support obligations are governed by the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, which use the Income Shares Model to apportion child support obligations between parents. In general, the Income Shares Model requires each parent to financially contribute to the support of their child in proportion to their share of the parents' total combined income. For example, if the combined income of the parents is $100,000 and the mother's income represents $60,000 of that total, or 60 percent, she would be expected to contribute 60 percent of her income toward the child support obligation, as established by the court, while the other parent contributes 40 percent. If the mother is the child's custodial parent, with whom the child primarily resides, she would provide her share of support directly to the child through her day-to-day care while the other parent contributes his share of the support obligation in the form of child support payments to the custodial parent. Courts may allocate child support differently based on the circumstances of a given case, for example, if parents share physical custody of a child for relatively equal amounts of time.


Tennessee alimony law is quite flexible, depending on the financial situation of the spouse with the greatest financial need. A court may order alimony to permit the receiving spouse to maintain the same standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, increase earning potential through education and training, compensate for an imbalance in property division, or to help overcome any temporary economic difficulties caused by the divorce.