Divorce Law for Domestic Violence in Tennessee

By Heather Frances J.D.

Divorce is rarely easy, but victims of domestic violence face an especially difficult process since the victim must navigate the divorce process while trying to keep herself safe. Tennessee laws can help the divorcing spouse protect herself; she may obtain a protective order against her abusive spouse and an abuser's violence can impact certain areas of the divorce.


Tennessee offers many grounds, or reasons, upon which a court can base a couple’s divorce, including both fault and no-fault grounds. No-fault grounds, such as irreconcilable differences between the spouses, require little proof. Fault grounds require the filing spouse to prove that the ground exists, and Tennessee has no grounds that specifically relate to domestic violence. However, there are grounds that may be appropriate in a domestic violence case, depending on the circumstances. For example, one of Tennessee’s grounds is that one spouse has subjected the other to such cruel and inhuman treatment that cohabitation is unsafe.

Temporary Protective Orders

A Tennessee court can issue a temporary protective order before or after a spouse files for divorce. A judge can issue a temporary order for domestic violence without the abusive spouse being present for the hearing, but temporary orders are effective for only 15 days, or until the court holds a full hearing. A spouse who files for divorce can ask the court for a temporary protective order at the time she files for divorce.

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Permanent Protective Order

Abused spouses can also ask for a permanent protective order, called an extended protection order. This type of order requires a full hearing before a judge. These orders can last up to one year and can be extended if the protected spouse requests an extension before the original order expires. Protective orders can prohibit the abuser from being within a certain distance of the protected spouse and contacting the protected spouse.

Child Custody

A history of domestic violence may affect the court’s child custody determinations. Since Tennessee courts are primarily concerned with the best interests of the child when awarding custody, the court may consider an abuser's history of domestic violence as a significant factor when awarding custody, especially if the violence was against the children. The court may instead award supervised visitation, when an abuser's visitation with his child takes place under the supervision of another adult.

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