Divorce Laws in Tennessee Regarding Willful Desertion

By Jeff Franco J.D./M.A./M.B.A.

If your motivation for seeking a divorce in Tennessee is because your husband or wife deserts you, the state’s family laws allow you to file for divorce on those grounds. However, there are certain requirements and burdens of proof you must satisfy to do so. And regardless of your grounds for divorce, Tennessee has a number of procedural guidelines that apply to all divorces.

Willful Desertion Grounds

Tennessee has a long list of legal grounds for divorce that require you to prove that your spouse is at fault for the deterioration of the marriage—one of which is the “willful or malicious desertion” by your spouse. In order to file for divorce on these grounds, your spouse must intentionally leave the home for at least one full year. Moreover, your spouse must not have reasonable cause for the desertion. For example, if your spouse is a member of the military and his service requires him to remain abroad for one year or more, Tennessee courts are unlikely to consider this a willful or malicious desertion.

Proof of Desertion

When your grounds for divorce include the desertion of your spouse, you must convince a Tennessee judge that your spouse is at fault for the breakdown of your marriage. This means you must present sufficient proof of your spouse’s desertion and that it was done maliciously or willfully. You can present this proof through documents, depositions or the testimony of witnesses who have first-hand knowledge of the desertion. Even if your spouse doesn’t dispute your claim of desertion, Tennessee judges must still evaluate your evidence and will only grant a divorce on desertion grounds when the proof is sufficiently convincing.

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Tennessee Jurisdiction & Venue

If you are a resident of Tennessee at the time your spouse deserts you — regardless of the state you currently live in — Tennessee courts have jurisdiction over your divorce. Otherwise, Tennessee will not have jurisdiction unless you or your spouse reside within the state for at least six months prior to the filing of the divorce petition. For purposes of finding the court with proper venue, the courthouse in the county where you and your spouse were living when the desertion occurred or the county where your spouse now resides is appropriate. If your spouse no longer lives in Tennessee, you can file in the county where you reside.

Preparing Divorce Petition

Tennessee requires that you assert your desertion grounds for divorce on the petition you file to commence the divorce proceedings. When you serve your spouse with notice of the petition, he has an opportunity to file an answer with the court that will include a response to your claim of desertion. You should be aware that Tennessee courts allow your spouse to request a bill of particulars from you -- which is a document that outlines all facts that support your desertion grounds for divorce. However, if you must file a bill of particulars with the court, it's in addition to the proof the court requires from you.

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