Understanding the Divorce Process in Tennessee

Your trusted Knoxville family lawyers discuss the initial stages of a divorce

When you’re ready for divorce, our attorneys are ready to help. Even in an amicable split, handling the details and figuring out the paperwork can stress out even the calmest of people. Understanding how the process works from beginning to end can help you go in ready, prepared, and confident – cutting down on emotional distress, spiraling attorney costs, and damage to the kids.

Here in Tennessee, there are only a couple of ways to end a marriage: an agreement, a divorce trial or a settlement. Most people agree that a settlement is less traumatic and does less damage to everyone involved, especially children. Certainly, it costs less than a trial, and few divorces these days actually end in a trial. This is because most couples are required to attempt mediation. Before a settlement is reached or a trial held, however, you must go through the divorce process.

But don’t worry! The Knoxville divorce attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter have decades of experience working with men and women throughout the state when they want to end their marriages. We walk you through it all with compassion and strong advocacy. Get in touch with us today.

Can I get divorced without having to file a lawsuit?

Yes, you can. Some spouses can reach agreements concerning division of property, alimony, and child custody issues before filing for divorce. This agreement, called a Marital Dissolution Agreement, must take care of all property, debts, child custody and child support and alimony issues.

Additionally, an agreement must be reached concerning any children under the age of 18 years. This is called a Permanent Parenting Plan, and it details where the children will spend time, how decisions concerning the children will be made, how they will be transported from household to household, who will provide medical insurance and how they will be supported. Children who are deemed permanently disabled have some flexibility within these laws – but that’s another topic for another day. Feel free to contact our custody attorneys for a consultation if you have questions.

How do I start the divorce process?

Starting the divorce process requires submitting and filing certain paperwork and documents. It typically proceeds as follows.

Filing the complaint

In Tennessee, filing a “Complaint” begins the divorce lawsuit. Sometimes the complaint is called a Petition for Divorce, and the person who files for divorce first is called the Plaintiff – let’s say that’s you. Your spouse would be the Defendant.

Tennessee law requires that certain information be disclosed in a Complaint for Divorce. This information typically includes:

  • Full names and Social Security numbers of you and your spouse
  • Current mailing addresses of you and your spouse
  • Your birthdate, and those of your spouse and all minor children in your marriage

In addition, the Clerk of Court issues a Summons. For a lawsuit to begin, both the Complaint and Summons must be served on the other party.

Our attorneys can help make sure you meet all the requirements – because if you don’t, the court might not grant your divorce, and that’s not the outcome you’re looking for. Sometimes, a Sheriff’s Deputy or a private process server will serve the Complaint and Summons on the other party (your spouse). However, if you want to (and are able to) keep drama and fees at a minimum, you can also do this by mail. A lawyer can mail another lawyer or an individual a lawsuit, and the individual receiving the lawsuit can sign a Waiver of Service of Process, acknowledging receipt of the lawsuit by mail.

This can help keep down expenses. If your ex refuses to accept service by mail and refuses to sign the waiver, then we can ask the Court to assess the costs of the process server to the person refusing to sign the waiver of service. Again, don’t worry – we can handle it.

Response by your spouse

In most divorces, the recipient of the Complaint for Divorce (that’s your spouse) will simply answer the complaint and you both can move on to formally settling the details of your split. However, in some cases, they’ll file a countersuit. The countersuit, also called a Counter-Complaint, is the same thing as a Complaint but against you instead. A countersuit often denies any allegations or accusations you made in the original Complaint, requesting it be dismissed. The countersuit typically asks the court to rule in their favor instead.

These issues tend to revolve around the usual things – child support, child custody, asset division, and all that. This is where you get into the nitty-gritty details of divorce, and when you’ll most definitely want a smart Knoxville family law attorney on your side.

What are grounds for divorce in Tennessee?

When ending a marriage, you’ll need to file under one of Tennessee’s 15 grounds for divorce. These can include:

  • Abandonment
  • Adultery
  • Conviction of a felony
  • Cruel and inhuman treatment
  • Irreconcilable differences
  • Marital misconduct

Most couples divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, as it’s typically the simplest path.

However, it’s important to remember that, even if you divorce your spouse on grounds of adultery, marital misconduct typically isn’t a big issue and doesn’t mean your divorce will be complicated or contested. Attorneys may include requests for all sorts of remedies when submitting a divorce filing to the court, for all sorts of reasons. The lawyers at LaFevor & Slaughter work strategically to ensure a stable future for you and your children.

When you file a complaint on fault grounds, a temporary injunction is issued automatically without independent judicial approval. This is called an “Automatic Injunction,” and addresses several topics, including:

  • Preventing the sale or transfer of certain assets
  • Stopping the canceling of insurance
  • Preventing the dissipation of marital funds
  • Preventing both spouses from threatening physical harm or harassment

Remember! The Automatic Injunction is effective against both parties at the same time. Make sure you understand the terms of the Automatic Injunction if one has been issued in your case. If the Automatic Injunction is violated, the person violating the court order can face possible jail time for contempt of court (failing to obey a court order).

If this all sounds like a bit of head-scratcher, that’s because it is. But it’s not your job to walk yourself through the divorce process – it’s ours. Leave the lights on and we’ll stay up and take care of things, so you can get the peace and rest you need. Let us do the worrying and the work for you.

Learn how Knoxville divorce attorneys LaFevor & Slaughter can help

The divorce lawyers of LaFevor & Slaughter offer comprehensive counsel and support to family law clients throughout the state. If you’re considering divorce, you can find the answers to your questions with us. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at (865) 637-6258 or fill out our contact form today.