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The Tennessee Divorce Process from Start to Finish

After making the decision to file for divorce, many people want to get on with it as quickly as possible. However, most are unclear about exactly what must happen to divorce, so they don’t understand how long the process takes. I’m Judy A. Oxford, an experienced Franklin divorce attorney who has handled more than a thousand divorce cases in Tennessee. One of the first things I do when meeting with clients is help them understand what the Tennessee divorce process is like.

First, we distinguish between a contested divorce and an uncontested divorce. A contested divorce is one in which the parties have not reached agreement on the divorce issues at the time the divorce case is filed. That’s my definition. A contested case can range from mild to severe. The more severe contested case can be the stereotypical divorce that we see portrayed in movies and books – the one where the couple goes in front of a judge and slings accusations about adultery or mistreatment.

In Tennessee, there are specific grounds for a contested divorce. These include:

Any of these causes for a contested divorce will require proof in court, and they can influence the outcome of the issues in the divorce case. Many times, these cases will settle before trial, and in that event, they are typically settled as divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences.

In an uncontested divorce, which is uncontested from the beginning, the spouses are simply saying that they no longer wish to be married and they have agreed on all the issues of the case. They proceed straight to signing a Marital Dissolution Agreement (and a parenting plan if they have any children) without the necessity of lawyers negotiating or going to mediation, file the divorce decree, and appear before the Judge for the divorce to be granted. They do not have to be declared legally separated to file for divorce.

In any divorce case in Tennessee, there is a waiting period that starts with the day the complaint for divorce is filed. If you do not have minor children with your spouse, the waiting period is 60 days. If you do have minor children with your spouse, the waiting period is 90 days. All this means is that even if you file the complaint for divorce with your agreements signed and all other requirements for a divorce completed, you have to wait until the waiting period ends before the divorce can be granted by the Judge. Even then, the divorce is not automatic; there needs to be a time scheduled for the case to come before the Judge for the divorce to be granted.

For a contested case, Tennessee law requires the couple to attend mediation to try to resolve their case. Judges enforce this requirement except in rare situations. Working with an attorney is very important, whether you are trying to negotiate as individuals or going to mediation or you are going to court. You might not know what you’re entitled to, or you might be prone to agreeing to certain things just to resolve the situation and move on. In either case, you might be giving up things you should have. I help my clients negotiate terms amicably without giving up important assets or forfeiting their interests.

If resolution through mediation is not possible, a divorce case would go to trial before a judge.

Depending on the circumstances, a divorce could take weeks, months, or even years to resolve. The more contentious the divorce is and the more assets are involved, the longer it can take. However, the simplest divorces can be finished in about three months (or a little longer if you have children), assuming that everything is agreed, the paperwork all done, and the Judge’s calendar permits. A final court hearing will be held as a formality. You are divorced when the Judge signs the Final Decree of Divorce.

Whether you have a contested or an uncontested divorce, and whether you and your spouse are in agreement and able to negotiate or not, you should always hire an experienced Tennessee divorce attorney to help you and protect your best interests and your financial future. You can end up leaving a lot on the table without a lawyer, and that can negatively affect you for years to come. If you are considering separation or divorce, call me at (615) 791-8511 to schedule a free consultation, or use the secure online form to email me. Let me help you get what you deserve in your divorce and protect you, your family and your future.