How to Legally Separate in Tennessee

By Valerie Stevens

Tennessee recognizes legal separation which authorizes married couples to live apart. A legal separation is essentially the same as a divorce in Tennessee, except that the spouses cannot remarry. The grounds for separation are the same as the grounds for divorce, and the court can rule on all of the issues usually dealt with in a divorce, except for the dissolution of marriage. Child custody, financial support and distribution of assets can be incorporated into a legal separation decree.


Tennessee recognizes 15 grounds for a divorce or separation with the most common being irreconcilable differences, the state's version of a no-fault divorce. If you and your spouse cannot agree to file on the basis of irreconcilable differences, you must file on fault grounds. Some of the more common grounds include adultery, habitual drunkenness and inappropriate marital conduct, which is defined by Tennessee law as “such cruel and inhuman treatment or conduct towards the spouse as renders cohabitation unsafe and improper.”


You can file a petition for legal separation in Tennessee based on residency or if the behavior that constitutes the grounds for divorce occurred in Tennessee. For example, if your spouse commits adultery in Tennessee, you might be able to file in that state if you don’t live there. To meet the residency requirements, you and your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months prior to filing. You must file in the county where you live. If your spouse has moved to another county, you can file there.

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The procedure for filing for a separation in Tennessee is the same as the procedure for filing for divorce. You must file a petition with the court and ask for a hearing. The court can rule on your case 60 days after you file if there are no children. If you and your spouse have children, the waiting period is 90 days. Many couples are able to reach a written agreement on all the issues regarding children, financial support and property. The court can approve this separation agreement as a part of its order. The separation agreement is often included in a final order of divorce if there is no reconciliation.


Couples can remain separated indefinitely after a legal separation is ordered. However, the court can grant an absolute divorce after two years to either spouse over the objection of the other if there has been no reconciliation. Either spouse can also file for divorce during this two-year period.

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