- Divorce Process
- Residency Requirements
- Grounds for Divorce
- Division of Property
- Spousal Support
- Child Custody
- Child Support
After a complaint for divorce is filed, a judge may determine that there is a chance of reconciliation and may order mandatory mediation for the spouses. In addition, one of the spouses may tell the court they think things can be worked out and may ask the court to have a hearing to see if the marriage is truly irretrievable. If the court concludes that there is a chance for the marriage to be repaired and there are minor children, the court may delay the proceedings for an attempt at reconciliation.
Unlike a divorce that dissolves a valid marriage, an annulment is a legal decree that a marriage is void. In addition, an annulment proceeding can resolve some of the same issues that would be the subject of a divorce proceeding, such as child custody and support and alimony. Annulments are granted only in limited situations and cannot be granted merely because the marriage is of short duration. They are normally not granted for “religious” reasons.
A settlement agreement is a written contract between the parties that sets forth their rights, duties and obligations that arise out of their separation and divorce and may include such things as the division of their property, spousal support, attorney’s fees, custody of their children and child support. Such agreements are encouraged since they may amicably settle the rights of the husband and wife in the estate and property of the other.
If you seek to file a divorce in Tennessee, it is important to be aware of the residency requirements prior to filing for your divorce. In order to file for divorce you must have been a resident of the state of Tennessee for a period of at least six months before filing for either type of divorce, unless the specific grounds for divorce occurred within the state. The papers for dissolution of marriage must also be filed in a county where either spouse resides.
Grounds for Divorce
There are numerous specific fault-based grounds for divorce in Tennessee. These grounds range from those which are very specific – adultery, bigamy, turned out of doors, conviction of a felony, pregnancy of the Wife by another before the marriage without the Husband’s knowledge, bigamy, abandonment or refusal or neglecting to provide for spouse although able to do so, drunkenness, and the like – to less specific, such as inappropriate marital conduct.
Tennessee also has a ground for divorce called “irreconcilable differences” which does not require either spouse to give evidence of anything derogatory about the other. However, the parties must be in agreement on all aspects of the divorce, including child custody and support, division of all property and debt, together with any other significant issues arising out of the marriage and this agreement must be filed with and approved by the court. The court is obligated to make sure that the parties’ agreement is in compliance with the state’s guidelines for child support.
In an irreconcilable differences divorce there is a waiting period of sixty days from the date the complaint is filed if there are no children and ninety days if there are children of the marriage. At the final hearing on an irreconcilable differences divorce it is not necessary to bring witnesses to appear on your behalf. This is different from the final hearing in a divorce on fault based grounds where you will need one, and sometimes two witnesses to appear on your behalf even is your spouse does not contest the divorce.
Division of Property
State statutes now provide for the “equitable” distribution of the marital property of the marriage at the time of the final divorce between the parties. “Marital Property” is defined as all jointly owned property and all other property, other than separate property, acquired by either or both of the parties during the marriage and up to the time of the final separation of the parties. “Separate Property” is property owned by one party at the time of the marriage or inherited property or gifts to one party from a third person and maintained as separate property. Where “Marital Property” and “Separate Property” are mixed together or where “Separate Property” is increased through the active efforts of either party during the marriage, then such property may be classified as “Part Marital” and “Part Separate” property.
In making its equitable distribution awards the courts are not only authorized to make monetary awards to one of the parties, but may also divide or order sold or transfer jointly owned marital property to one of the parties. The court in making its equitable distribution awards is not required to divide the marital property on an equal basis but rather, in deciding what an equitable division of marital property should be, will consider various factors listed in the Equitable Distribution Statute, including the relative monetary and non-monetary contributions of each of the parties to the well being of the family and to the acquisition and care of the marital property.
Pensions and retirement plans are subject to the Equitable Distribution Statute to the extent that the same were accumulated during the course of the marriage of the parties.
Due to increasing changes in the law and in society, including changes in sexual equality, this area of the law of divorce is in the process of great change. Under recent changes in the law, the fault of a spouse in causing a divorce may not be a complete bar to obtaining spousal support, but the cause of separation will be a factor that the court will consider in determining whether or not to award spousal support.
Spousal support, when awarded, may be periodic and/or in a lump sum, the amount of which depends upon such factors as the respective ages, assets and earning potential of the parties and the duration and history during the marriage. Spousal support is not awarded to punish a guilty spouse but rather is to lessen the financial impact of divorce on the other spouse.
This is the most crucial issue in most divorces. In determining the custody of minor (under eighteen) children, the court is guided by one standard–the best interests of the child. Custody will not be given to a parent as a reward or as punishment to the guilty parent but rather to the one most adaptable to the task of caring for the child and able to control and direct the child.
Other factors considered may include the age of the parent and child, the physical and mental condition of the parent and child, the relationship existing between each parent and each child, the needs of the child, the role played by each parent in the upbringing and caring for the child, the home where the child will live and the child’s wishes if the child is of sufficient age, intelligence and maturity to make such a decision. Custody may be changed if there is a material change in circumstances.
The court will normally set visitation rights if the parents cannot voluntarily agree upon satisfactory arrangements. An important factor to the court in most custody cases is which parent will be the most likely to see to it that the non-custodial parent remains a strong part of the child or children’s lives.
Normally the party not having custody will be called upon to contribute to the support of the minor child. This could be an obligation of the mother as well as the father, or both, if a third person has custody of the child. The court is guided by the needs of the child and the ability of the supporting parent or parents to pay. The use of the state Child Support Guidelines provides an amount of child support that is presumed to be correct, but the court may deviate from these guidelines in appropriate circumstances. The award is subject to change so long as the obligation to support remains. It may be increased or decreased if a material change occurs in the circumstances of either or both of the parents of the child.
In Tennessee, a Shared Income Model is used with which the Court considers the income of both parties in addition to the number of assigned visitation days. The party responsible for healthcare and work-related daycare costs will receive credit for those costs as part of the child support worksheet.