Tennessee Divorce Laws

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The plaintiff must be a resident of this state, or if the grounds for divorce occurred outside of the state, either the party must have resided in the state for 6 months preceding the filing of the complaint. Military personnel must be a resident of the state for at least one year prior to filing. The petition must be filed in the chancery or circuit court in the county where the parties reside at the time of their separation, or in either the country where the defendant resides, or where the applicant resides. [Based on Tennessee Code - Title 36, Sections 36-4-104 and 36-4-105]

Legal Grounds for Divorce

The following are causes of divorce from the bonds of matrimony:

  • Irreconcilable differences between the parties
  • A two year period of separation, without cohabitation, if there are no minor children involved
  • Impotence
  • Bigamy
  • Adultery
  • Willful desertion for one whole year
  • Conviction of an infamous crime, or sentenced to confinement in a penitentiary for a felony
  • Cruel or inhuman treatment that makes cohabitation unsafe
  • Attempting to take the life of the other
  • Refusal to move to this state, and being willfully absent from the spouse residing in Tennessee for two years
  • The woman was pregnant at the time of the marriage, by another person, without the knowledge of the husband
  • Habitual drunkenness or drug abuse after the marriage
  • Indignities that render the spouse's position intolerable, and force the spouse to withdraw
  • Abandonment and refusal to provide for the spouse while having the ability to do so

[Based on Tennessee Code - Title 36, Sections 36-4-101]

Legal Separation

The grounds to file a complaint for a legal separation are the same as for a divorce. The court can address matters such as child custody, visitation, support and property issues during legal separation upon motion by either party or by agreement of the parties. The court has the power to grant an absolute divorce to either party if there has been an order of legal separation for more than two years, the parties have not reconciled, and a petition is filed by either party for an absolute divorce. [Based on Tennessee Code - Title 36, Sections 36-4-102]

Property Distribution

Tennessee is an equitable distribution state that divides the marital property equitably without regard to marital fault. Marital property is all property acquired during the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title. Property acquired before the marriage or after a legal separation, inheritances, and gifts, and pain and suffering awards are considered separate property. The court shall consider the following factors when determining an equitable distribution of the marital property:

  • The length of the marriage.
  • The age, physical and mental health, employability, and financial needs of each spouse.
  • The contribution of one spouse to the education or increased earning power of the other spouse.
  • The relative ability of each spouse for future employment and asset acquirement.
  • Contributions as a homemaker, wage earner, or parent.
  • The value of the separate property of each spouse.
  • The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time of the divorce.
  • The tax consequences of the proposed property settlement.
  • The social security benefits available to each spouse.
  • Any other factors relevant to an equitable distribution settlement.

The court may award the family home and effects, or the right to live there for a reasonable period of time, to either party, but shall give special consideration to the spouse having physical custody of a child or children of the marriage. [Based on Tennessee Code - Title 36, Sections 36-4-121]

Alimony/Maintenance/Spousal Support

The court may award alimony to be paid by one spouse to the other, or out of either spouse's property, according to the nature of the case and the circumstances of the parties. The court may award rehabilitative alimony, periodic alimony, transitional alimony, or lump sum alimony, or a combination of these, taking the following factors into consideration:

  • The relative earning capacity, obligations, needs, and financial resources of each party.
  • The relative earning capacity of each party, and the necessity of a party to secure further education and training to improve such party's earnings capacity to a reasonable level.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • The age, mental, and physical condition of each party, including, but not limited to, physical disability or incapacity due to a chronic debilitating disease.
  • Whether the custodial parent is unable to work outside the home due to the care of a minor child.
  • The separate assets of each party.
  • The property apportioned to the party.
  • The standard of living established during the marriage.
  • The contributions as a homemaker and to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party.
  • The relative fault of the parties.
  • Any other factors, including the tax consequences to each party, as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.

[Based on Tennessee Code - Title 36, Sections 36-5-121]

Spouse's Name

There is no provision in the Tennessee Code for the restoration of a wife's name upon divorce. However, a wife may resume the use of her former or maiden name after a divorce.


The court may award custody to either parent, or to both parents in the case of joint custody or shared parenting based on the best interests of the child, taking the following factors into consideration:

  • The emotional ties, love, and affection between the parents and the child;
  • The ability of the parents to provide adequately for the child;
  • The quality of the child's adjustment to the child's present environment, including the home, school, and community, provided there is no evidence of child abuse;
  • The stability of the family unit, as well as the mental and physical health of the parents;
  • The preference of the child if 12 years of age or older. The court may also hear the preference of a younger child upon request, but it will not be given as much weight as that of an older child;
  • Evidence of abuse to the child, the other parent, or any other person;
  • The character of any other person who resides with or frequently interacts with the child;
  • The parenting abilities of each parent, including their willingness to encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent.

[Based on Tennessee Code - Title 36, Sections 36-6-106]


Child support in Tennessee is based on the "Income Shares" Model, and the provisions are outlined in the following Tennessee child support guidelines. The court may require health insurance coverage for each child of the marriage, with either party to pay all, or each party to pay a pro rata share of, the health care costs not paid by insurance proceeds. [Based on Tennessee Code - Title 36, Sections 36-5-501]

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