Lori R. Holyfield Attorney at Law

An Advocate Through Life's Transitions


Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce in Tennessee

Note:  This page is not intended as legal advice.  It expresses general principles about Tennessee law as it stands in mid-December 2016.  The laws relating to divorce and child custody change regularly in Tennessee.  You should contact an attorney to get advice about your specific situation under the law as it exists at the time your situation arises.

What is divorce?

Absolute divorce - usually referred to simply as divorce - is the dissolution, or dissolving, of a marriage.  The entry of a Final Decree of Absolute Divorce changes the legal status of both parties from married to unmarried.  In Tennessee, at the time the Court grants a divorce, it must resolve all issues related to custody and support of any children of the marriage, divide the marital estate (assets and debts), and make determinations regarding alimony.

Can I file my divorce action in Tennessee?  Should I?

Generally speaking, you can file a complaint for divorce in a Tennessee Court if one of the following applies:

  1. You or your spouse has resided in Tennessee for at least 6 months continuously (in a row) immediately before the divorce complaint is filed; or
  2. The ground(s) for divorce arose while the person who filed for divorce - called the Plaintiff - was a bona fide resident of Tennessee, even if that person is no longer a resident of Tennessee.

The answer to this question may be somewhat more complicated if children are involved. 

Also, even if you can file for divorce in Tennessee, that doesn't necessarily mean you should file in Tennessee.   If you have more than one choice of forum, you should consult with attorneys in each state to determine the relative advantages and disadvantages of filing in each state.  These advantages and disadvantages could relate to anything from waiting period requirements to differences in the calculation or duration of property division, child support, or spousal support.  It is important to know your rights.

What is the waiting period for a divorce in Tennessee?

It depends on whether your divorce involves minor children or not.  If any child has been born during the marriage and is under 18 or still in high school, then the waiting period is 90 days from the date the divorce complaint is filed.  This is true even if the wife has given birth to a child that is not the husband's biological child.

If there are no minor children, then the waiting period is 60 days from the date the divorce complaint is filed with the Court.  Please note: depending on the factors present in your specific case and the Court to which the case is assigned, it could take substantially longer than 60-90 days to obtain a divorce.

How long will my divorce take to complete?

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees here because there are too many variables - your spouse's cooperativeness (or lack thereof); the attorney on the other side of the case; the Court's docket; the complexity of your debts, assets, and parenting situation; and so on.  A consultation with an attorney may allow the attorney to "ballpark" the length of the proceedings, but no one can give a definite answer to this question.

Can I obtain a "no-fault" divorce?

Only if you and your spouse cooperate to obtain a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences.  "Irreconcilable differences" means exactly what it sounds like: you and your spouse have differences that cannot be reconciled and will prevent you from continuing to live together as husband and wife. 

IMPORTANT: Tennessee allows a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences only if both parties enter into a written agreement providing for the settlement of their property rights - usually called a Marital Dissolution Agreement, or "MDA" - and a written agreement providing for the custody, support, and maintenance of any minor children of the marriage - usually called an Agreed Permanent Parenting Plan, or "PPP."

If you cannot obtain a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, you will be required to prove that you are entitled to divorce on a fault-based ground.  The most common fault-based ground for divorce by far is inappropriate marital conduct, but there are other fault-based grounds, including but not limited to impotence, bigamy, adultery, alcohol or drug addiction, conviction of certain crimes, one spouse attempting to kill the other spouse, one spouse offering indignities to the person of the other spouse, and a few different types of abandonment.  You should consult an attorney to determine whether these grounds for divorce apply to your specific situation.

My spouse ran off and I do not know where s/he is located.  Can I get a divorce or am I stuck in my "marriage" forever?

You are not forever chained to your runaway bride or groom.  If you cannot find him/her after making reasonable efforts to do so, there are court procedures available to help you get a divorce.  It is best to have an attorney handle this process for you, as there are lots of potential pitfalls along the way.

Can I obtain a divorce while I am pregnant?

Generally speaking, divorce is a more difficult process if you are pregnant.  You should speak with an attorney about the impact of your pregnancy on the divorce proceedings, which can vary depending on whether your current spouse is the father of your child, which court you are in, and other factors.  Many courts will hold the divorce proceedings pending the birth of the child and a DNA test.

Can I use the divorce process to change my last name back to a name I used previously?

Usually, but not always (ask your attorney whether you can do this in your situation).  If a name change is granted as part of the divorce decree, there is no additional fee.

Which courts hear divorces in Tennessee?

Both circuit and chancery courts can hear divorces in Tennessee.  In Shelby County, your case could be assigned either to one of nine judges in circuit court or one of three chancellors in chancery court.  In Fayette County and Tipton County, only the chancery court hears divorces.  The same two chancellors serve Fayette County and Tipton County, and they rotate months.   If you are not located in Shelby County, Fayette County, or Tipton County, you should contact your local courts or an attorney who practices in your county for more information.


Lori R. Holyfield focuses her practice in divorce and family law and serves Shelby, Tipton, and Fayette Counties in southwest Tennessee.

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Legal information posted or made available by Ms. Holyfield on or through this website is not intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship between any individual or entity and any attorney, including Ms. Holyfield. Such Legal Information is intended for general informational purposes only and should be used only as a starting point for addressing your legal issues. It is not a substitute for an in-person or telephone consultation with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction about your specific legal issue, and you should not rely upon such Legal Information.

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