Understanding Divorce Procedure

Many people are concerned about filing for divorce because they think the process will be very complicated, expensive, and time consuming.   In fact, the process is relatively straightforward, and getting your divorce in Tennessee can be quick and painless.  Read on to learn how the process works.


In Tennessee, a divorce can only be granted if a spouse can show the court that problems (“grounds”) have arisen in the marriage that are so serious that the marriage should be dissolved.  The grounds can be adultery, drug use, abandonment, or several others.  Tennessee also offers the grounds of “irreconcilable differences“, which gives the couple the ability to agree upon division of property, alimony, and visitation with the children.

The Complaint

The first step is to file a complaint with the clerk and have your spouse served.  TN law requires certain information to be included (names, birthdays, where you were married, when you separated, etc.), as well as a description of what has led to the filing of the divorce.

Even though the Complaint is relatively straightforward, you should have a competent lawyer draft it for you.  This document serves as the foundation that your case is built upon, and your lawyer will know how to compose this document in a way that will support your case and protect your rights later.


The next step is to file the complaint and have it formally served upon your spouse.  This is normally handled by a Sheriff, but it can also be done by certified mail or by a private process server.  There may be times when one type of service is better than another, and if you and your spouse are able to work out the agreement amicably, it may be best not to stir the pot by having a Sheriff’s deputy show up at his residence or employment.

Hurry up and wait

After the Complaint is filed, Tennessee law requires that the parties wait for at least 60 days if there are no minor children, and 90 days if the couple has minor children before the judge can award the divorce.  There are a lot of reasons behind this waiting period, but the most obvious is sometimes people get really mad and file for divorce, only to go right back and make up with their spouse.

This waiting period is best spent trying to negotiate a settlement between the parties.  If the parties can agree on property division and child visitation, they can save themselves the time and expense of a trial.  If the parties are not going to be able to agree (and probably even if they are) your lawyer will also use discovery techniques to determine the parties income, assets, debts, and work toward how to best present your case at trial in order to win a favorable judgment for you.


Before the judge will set your case for trial, he will likely order that the parties attend mediation in order to attempt to work out an agreement.  The judges know that people are much more likely to abide by a settlement they created themselves.  The parties can either choose a mediator on their own, or the judge can order them to use a particular mediator.

Mediation can be very successful, and while it’s not cheap, it’s still less expensive than a trial.  A good mediator will listen to each parties story and help each of them work out what is most important to them, and in what areas they can give a little ground.  If each party is willing to exercise a little give and take, they should be able to agree on at least some of the issues.  Sometimes the entire case can be settled, sometimes part of the case can be worked out, leaving only a few issues to be settled by the judge.

The trial

If mediation is not completely successful, your attorney will represent you at your trial.  You will have the opportunity to present your case and evidence to the judge.  Your lawyer will be able to cross examine your spouse and question their statements and evidence they present.  The judge will decide the division of property, alimony, insurance coverage, child care and visitation, and any other issues necessary to dissolve the marriage and separate the couple’s property.


The judge’s ruling will be an order of the court, which is binding on both parties.  If one of the parties decides not to abide by the order, he can be held in contempt of court which could mean time spent in jail, or a number of other unpleasant remedies.  The judges tend to have very little patience when people disobey orders, particularly when those orders concern child visitation or child support.

Other issues

The above steps are a summary of the divorce process, and you need to know that there will be some other requirements along the way.  For example, if you have children you will likely be required to attend a parenting seminar, which will teach the parents ways to work out disagreements without involving the court.  Here again, your lawyer can guide you though everything you will need in order to complete your case.

Contact me

If you still have questions about the process, or are wanting to talk to someone about your own divorce, either call me at (615) 244-1018 x 102 or use this form to contact me.  I would love to help you.