Divorce in Tennessee

Contested or uncontested divorce

You might have heard about the concepts of “contested divorce” and “uncontested divorce”. These are terms used by legal professionals to describe two types of divorce. Simply put, a contested divorce is the type in which the spouses cannot agree on one or more key issues in order to end their marriage. To conclusively terminate the marriage, they must go to trial to have the court adjudicate their dispute. By contrast, an uncontested divorce occurs when the couple agrees on all issues, leaving nothing disputed or unresolved pending further judicial adjudication.

Very few divorces currently end in a trial. Having an agreement or a settlement with your spouse is less traumatic and does less damage to everyone involved, especially the minor children. Moreover, having a divorce lawsuit could mean a pricy bill of attorney’s fee and a lengthy legal procedure. So for sake of the efficiency and cost savings, most divorcing spouses try to avoid a lawsuit by reaching agreements with each other before going through the divorce process.

Whether the divorcing spouses can successfully reach an agreement or settlement on all issues during the course of terminating a marriage depends on several sensitive matters such as:

  • grounds for divorce
  • alimony
  • spousal support
  • child custody
  • child support
  • property division
  • asset distribution

Generally speaking, having harsh disputes in the course of divorce is commonplace now since there are so many different issues to resolve.

One should also be aware of the potential change between contested and uncontested divorce. A contested divorce could change into an uncontested one if with the mediation and help of counsels both parties come to a settlement. The process of negotiation and reaching settlement might not be amicable or speedy though, because having a settlement only means that all disputed issues between the divorcing couple are to be settled out of court to terminate the marriage. On the other hand, in some situations, although not often, an uncontested one might change into a contested one if the court finds the divorce agreement contrary to the law or in violation of the best interest of child. If any objections to the court’s ruling arises on either part of spouses, then counsel usually intervenes and the divorces becomes contested.


The legal process in Tennessee

It is important to understand that a “simple” uncontested divorce still requires a legal process. Having a “simply” divorce does not mean reaching a just-between-you-and-me deal by two private citizens. In Tennessee, both contested and uncontested divorces must start with the filing of the “Complaint” with applicable court. The person who files the Complaint first is Plaintiff, and the other party is Respondent/Defendant.

After the Complaint is filed with court, the Clerk of Court issues a Summons. In a contested divorce case, for the lawsuit to begin, both the Complaint and Summons must be served on the other party according to the requirement of Service of Process. Yet the filing of Complaint and the Service of Process only completes a small portion of the work required in the course of divorce. What follows the initial filing stage involve a large amount of specific knowledge of legal terms and local rules. The legal process of divorce can be either easy or complicated, and without a case-by-case analysis one cannot predict with accuracy.

It is true that any party of the divorce at any stage can technically handle the lawsuit or file the Complaint without the assistance of legal counsel. For example, Tennessee provides a pdf version of an uncontested-divorce-DIY-package for spouses having no intention to hire attorneys. If the spouses have minor children but without jointly owning business or real property or retirement benefits, then they can simply download the package and fill out the forms provided on their own. Tennessee even provides the opportunity of postponing the filing fee if one cannot afford it.

However, it is always good to talk with a lawyer if possible. It is important to realize that even the DIY package has been drafted as detailed and user-friendly as possible, one might probably might it hard to understand and follow. In any case, you’d better need a lawyer if any of the following conditions applies:

  • You find the court papers and legal terms difficult to understand
  • You don’t know how to locate your spouse
  • Your economic and financial conditions are complicated
  • Your spouse has a lawyer
  • You feel your spouse is taking advantage of you or making you afraid to disagree
  • You feel you spouse won’t sign the Divorce Agreement you propose
  • There is domestic violence involved


If you have any questions about divorce in Tennessee, please contact our office for further information at 615-369-7069.

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