What Is an Absolute Divorce in Tennessee?

By Erika Johansen

In Tennessee, the term "absolute divorce" refers to a divorce that completely and finally ends the marriage, leaving both parties free to remarry. When a court issues an absolute divorce decree, the decree divides any property the divorcing couple may own and details alimony payments and child custody and support, if applicable. Absolute divorce contrasts with a "bed and board" divorce, which Tennessee law grants to couples who only seek a legal separation; legally separated couples can't remarry.

Absolute Divorce Grounds

When you submit your initial complaint for divorce to the court, you must name your grounds for seeking a divorce. Tennessee law allows both fault-based and no-fault divorce. In the no-fault scenario, neither spouse tries to blame the other for the marriage's failure; they just want to end it. You can seek an absolute divorce in Tennessee based on two no-fault grounds. One is irreconcilable differences between the spouses; this ground can only be used when you and your spouse settle the entire divorce by legal agreement rather than court battle. The other is a two-year period of separation; this ground can only be used when there are no minor children from the marriage. However, you can also seek a fault-based divorce, where you blame your spouse for the marriage's failure. Tennessee recognizes several fault grounds for divorce, including a one-year desertion by one spouse, felony conviction, impotence, adultery, and cruel treatment.

Property Division

In Tennessee, you and your spouse can sign a Marital Dissolution Agreement, which describes how you'd like to divide your property, and then submit it for the court's approval. But if you can't agree, the court itself will decide on the property division. Tennessee courts apply equitable distribution law, in which the judge will divide marital property in a way that is fair to both spouses. Although equitable distribution may, and often does, mean a straight 50/50 division, the court may decide to divide the property unequally after evaluating several factors. These factors may include how much separate property you and your spouse already have; how long you've been married; what amount each of you can be expected to earn with your individual skills; and how much each of you contributed to the marriage.

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Awarding Custody

If you have children, the court's divorce decree will also decide who gets legal custody (the right to make decisions about the children's lives and well-being) and physical custody (the right to have the children live with you). The court's priority will be the best interests of your children; Tennessee law provides a large number of factors to use in this decision. Some of these factors include each parent's emotional and physical fitness for parenting; how well each parent encourages the development and well-being of the child; how much time each parent spent caring for the children during the marriage; any prior abuse inflicted by a parent; and the child's wishes if over the age of 12.

Awarding Alimony

Typically, courts award alimony to a spouse who will have an economic disadvantage after the divorce. The size of the award will depend on the disadvantaged spouse's need and other spouse's ability to pay. Some of the factors a Tennessee court will consider when awarding alimony are the assets you and your spouse will have after the divorce; how much you're capable of earning on your own; how old you are; and whether you or your spouse will need to stay home to care for your children. If you are seeking a fault-based divorce, Tennessee courts may also consider fault when deciding whether to award alimony and how much. Proven fault by your spouse may either reduce her alimony payment if she is the recipient or force her to pay a larger amount if she is the payer.

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