Divorce Laws in Sumner County, Tennessee

By Stephanie Reid

Sumner County, along with all of the counties in Tennessee, follows uniform state laws of divorce, custody, visitation and property distribution. Couples can divorce on fault-based grounds or by citing irreconcilable differences. They can either decide to settle divorce matters privately by reaching a marital settlement agreement or by submitting to a hearing before the Sumner County Chancery Court, which can also perform a name change if requested.

Grounds for Divorce

If both spouses agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and neither plans to place blame on the other, they can file for a no-fault divorce. Otherwise, the party seeking the divorce must cite one of the available grounds for divorce offered in Tennessee. These include impotency, adultery, willful absence for at least one year, a felony conviction resulting in incarceration or attempting to take the other spouse's life. The court will invalidate a marriage obtained while one spouse was legally married to another person. Other grounds for a fault divorce include cruelty, substance abuse, abandonment and neglect.

Distribution of Property

The Tennessee Chancery Court decides matters such as divorce, injunctions or contract disputes. Judges in these courts, or chancellors, will divide marital property in a manner that is fair and just. This approach is known as "equitable distribution" and is followed by a majority of states. An equitable distribution of property may not necessarily be a 50/50 split. When dividing marital property -- property, assets or debts obtained during the marriage -- the court will look at a number of factors to decide what is fair to each party. These factors include the duration of the marriage, age of the parties, employability or education of each party, whether one party contributed to the marriage primarily in a homemaking capacity, and the economic or tax consequences to each party.

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Child Custody

Tennessee courts look to what is in the best interest of the child when making determinations regarding custody and visitation. The court will balance factors including the relationship between the parents and child, ability and willingness of each party to facilitate a loving environment and the preference of the child if he is at least 12 years old. As part of the divorce process, parents are required to attend a four-hour parenting class and execute a detailed parenting plan regarding visitation and custody arrangements.


Alimony is a regular or lump sum payment made by one spouse to the other, less advantaged spouse. Alimony awards are calculated based on various factors, including the duration of the marriage and education, employability and health of each spouse. The chancellor will also consider a spouse's financial ability to make alimony payments. Four types of alimony are available in Tennessee: Periodic alimony is ordered so a spouse can maintain the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage, and can be indefinite in duration; rehabilitative alimony is awarded to a spouse who is returning to school to increase future earning capacity and generally terminates when the recipient has achieved the desired education; transitional alimony is awarded when rehabilitation is not necessary, but one spouse will need financial support while adjusting to the divorce; and lump sum alimony is awarded when a party is disadvantaged by the property division and did not receive a fair share.

Modification of Alimony

Alimony payments are not necessarily indefinite -- they can be modified or terminated upon motion to the court. Generally, only periodic or rehabilitative alimony can be modified and only upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances since the original order. The court will only modify alimony if the substantial change was not apparent at the time of the original order. Also, alimony will terminate upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse or death of either spouse.

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