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Legal Information: Tennessee

Tennessee Divorce

Laws current as of
November 27, 2023

Below is basic information about divorce in Tennessee. You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.

What are the residency requirements for divorce in Tennessee?

You can file for a divorce in Tennessee if:

  • the ground for divorce happened while you were a resident of Tennessee; or
  • the ground for divorce happened while you were not a resident of Tennessee, but you or your spouse have now live in Tennessee for at least six months before the complaint for divorce is filed.1

Note: A person stationed in Tennessee for at least one year as a member of the armed services, or as the spouse of a member of the armed services, is considered to be a Tennessee resident.2

1 TN ST § 36-4-104(a)
2 TN ST § 36-4-104(b)

What are the grounds for divorce in Tennessee?

“Grounds” are legally acceptable reasons for divorce. A judge can grant you a divorce based on:

  1. irreconcilable differences; or
  2. if your spouse:
  • was impotent and incapable of reproducing at the time of the marriage;
  • married you while still married to someone else;
  • committed adultery (cheated on you);
  • deserted you or was absent for one year without a reasonable explanation;
  • was convicted of an “infamous crime;”
  • was convicted of a felony and sentenced to a prison/jail;
  • attempted to poison or kill you;
  • refused to move to Tennessee with you without a reasonable explanation and didn’t live with you for two years while you were living in Tennessee;
  • was pregnant with another person’s child at the time of marriage and you didn’t know;
  • began to habitually use drugs or alcohol starting after the date of your marriage;
  • engages in inappropriate marital conduct, cruel and inhuman treatment, or behavior that makes living together unsafe;
  • treats you so horribly that being with him/her is impossible and you have to leave;
  • abandons you or tells you to leave without any reason and does not support you financially; or
  • has lived separate from you in a different home, has not lived with you as a spouse, and does not have any minor children in common with you.1

1 TN ST § 36-4-101(a)

Can I get alimony?

Alimony, also called maintenance or spousal support, is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse. The judge will decide whether or not to grant you alimony. If you suffer economically because you relied on your spouse for support and were a homemaker or parent during your marriage, the judge will try to make sure that your standard of living is the same after your marriage as it was during your marriage if possible.1

To decide whether or not to award alimony and to decide the appropriate amount and length of an alimony award, the judge will consider several factors, including:

  • each party’s financial needs and the ability to meet those needs;
  • each party’s earning capacity and resources, including pensions, profit sharing, and retirement plans;
  • each party’s education and training and need for more education or training to increase earning capacity;
  • the length of marriage;
  • each party’s age, mental condition, and physical condition;
  • if there are children under 18 years old, which would make it undesirable for one party to work outside of the home;
  • separate assets or property;
  • the standard of living during the marriage;
  • contributions as a homemaker, help with the other spouse’s training, education, or increased earning capacity of your spouse;
  • each party’s fault in contributing to the divorce; and
  • any other factors necessary to come to a fair decision, including the potential tax consequences to you and your spouse.1

1 TN ST § 36-5-121(c)(2)
1 TN ST § 36-5-121(i)

What types of alimony are available?

There are four types of alimony in Tennessee:

Rehabilitative Alimony
The judge may award you rehabilitative alimony to help you get to the point where you can have same standard of living that you had during your marriage. Rehabilitative alimony will stop if you or your spouse die.1

Periodic Alimony
The judge may award you periodic alimony on a long-term basis if there is a big difference between your and your spouse’s income, and even with effort, you would be unable to have the same standard of living you had during the marriage. Periodic alimony ends on the date that the judge sets or if you remarry or die.2

Transitional Alimony
Transitional alimony is awarded for a specific period of time to help you adjust to being divorced or separated. Transitional alimony cannot be changed unless:

  1. you and your spouse agree to a change in the original court order.;
  2. the judge orders that the alimony award can be changed in the original court order; or
  3. you live with someone else (a “third party”).

If you live with a third party, the judge will assume, but you can present evidence otherwise, that the third party is either supporting you or you are supporting the third party, and therefore you do not need the same amount of alimony.3

Lump Sum Alimony
Lump sum alimony, known as alimony in solido, is ordered for a long-term, specific period of time to help provide you with financial support. It can be paid all at once (in a “lump sum”) or broken up into installments, which get paid out over time. The purpose of this form of alimony is to provide financial support to a spouse, to enable the court to fairly (equitably) divide and distribute marital property, or both. If the judge orders your spouse to pay your attorney’s fees and expenses for the divorce proceeding, the judge can include those fees in the lump sum alimony.4

Lump sum alimony can only be changed if you and your spouse agree to a change, and it will not end if you or your spouse remarry or die.5

1 TN ST § 36-5-121(2), (3)
2 TN ST § 36-5-121(f)(1)
3 TN ST § 36-5-121(g)(1)
4 TN ST § 36-5-121(h)(1)
5 TN ST § 36-5-121(h)(2), (h)(3)

What are the basic steps for filing for divorce?

While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps that a person may have to follow to obtain a divorce:

  • First, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirements of the state you want to file in.
  • Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
  • Third, you must file the appropriate divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse. (To learn more about filing a summons, preparing a petition, and service of process, go to the Starting the Court Case page in our Preparing for Court - By Yourself section.) For the exact rules for serving the papers, contact your local courthouse or an attorney.   
  • Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, then s/he will have the opportunity to file papers telling her/his side.  In his/her response, the other party may express his/her opinion challenging the divorce, asking that it be granted under different grounds or letting the judge know that s/he agrees to the divorce.  If your spouse contests the divorce, then you may have a series of court appearances to sort the issues out.  Also, if a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway.  (Speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers before you can continue with the divorce.)
  • Fifth, if there are property, assets, a pension, debts, or anything else that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, then these issues may have to be dealt with during the divorce or else you may lose your chance to deal with these issues.  The issues may be worked out during settlement negotiations and incorporated into the divorce decree or in a series of court hearings during the divorce.  Custody and child support may also be decided as part of your divorce.

You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?

Is there anything I can do if my abusive partner continually files court proceedings against me?

Abusers often misuse court proceedings in order to continue the abuse. This is called an “abusive civil action” and the abuser would be considered an “abusive civil action plaintiff.” If you are dealing with an abusive civil action, you can ask the judge to issue an order dismissing the case and putting pre-filing restrictions on the abuser. See our Litigation Abuse section for more information on how to do this.

Where can I find additional information about divorce laws in Tennessee?

Legal Aid of East Tennessee has a divorce booklet that you can download with information on where to file, what happens after you file, how long a divorce usually takes, and more.

Tennessee State Courts has court forms that you may need for your divorce.

WomensLaw.org is unrelated to the above organizations and cannot vouch for the accuracy of their sites. We provide these links for your information only.

You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.