Written by attorney Matt Miller

Tennessee Divorce Law: General Information Regarding Uncontested and Contested Divorces

In the state of Tennessee, a divorce may be obtained in either an uncontested action or a contested proceeding.

What is uncontested divorce?

To dissolve your marriage by an uncontested divorce both parties to the marriage must agree on all issues. For simplicity purposes, the areas that must be agreed upon include how the parties will divide all marital assets and all marital debts, meaning who will receive what assets and who will pay what debts, and in what specific amounts. In an uncontested divorce, the parties are free to divide assets in essentially any manner they desire so long as each party agrees.

Similarly, the parties are free to divide the debt of the marriage in any manner they desire. The parties to be divorced must then have their agreement reduced to a written document known as a "marital dissolution agreement," also commonly referred to as a "MDA." If the parties to be divorced have a child or children born during the marriage they must also agree on several issues pertaining directly to the child/children. Such issues include, but are not limited to who will be named as the "primary residential parent," when visitation with the child/children will occur, and what amount of money will be paid each month as child support.

Under Tennessee law, the term "primary residential parent" has replaced the term custodian for purposes of a divorce involving children born during the marriage. As such, the primary residential parent is the parent with whom the child/children will primarily reside during the year. The other parent is generally obligated to pay child support to the primary residential parent for the benefit, care, and maintenance of the child/children.

The specific document that will memorialize the parties' agreement in regard to all issues pertaining to the children is known as a "permanent parenting plan." Apart from the above issues pertaining to the children, the parenting plan also addresses several other issues regarding the children and the parties' agreement as to how the child/children will be raised after the parties' divorce is final. Many parties prefer an uncontested divorce to a contested divorce.

Benefits of an uncontested divorce

As a general rule, an uncontested divorce is a much quicker method to dissolve the marriage. If there are no children and the parties have signed a marital dissolution agreement as addressed above, a divorce may be entered by the court after sixty (60) have elapsed following the filing of a divorce complaint with the court and service uponthe other spouse. Where there are children born of the marriage, a divorce may be entered and finalized after ninety (90) days have elapsed following the filing and service upon the other spouse.

Additionally, in an uncontested divorce the marriage may be ended on the ground of "irreconcilable differences." Irreconcilable differences essentially means that the parties simply no longer can get along and cannot remain together as husband and wife. No further explanation has to be given and no witnesses are required to testify as to the reasons for the divorce.

An additional major benefit to ending the marriage in an uncontested fashion is that the cost of attorney fees are considerably less for both parties thereby saving money that would be spent in litigation in a contested divorce. In addition to these issues you may desire to address other issues such as alimony, the division of future retirement benefits, and/or the affect of a future move after the divorce by one of the parties to another city or state.

What is contested divorce?

If you and your spouse can not agree to end the marriage in an uncontested fashion, if one of the parties does not want a divorce, or an agreement cannot be reached as to either how assets, or debts will be divided, or as to any issue regarding the children, then the marriage cannot be dissolved in an uncontested divorce.

Instead, a contested divorce will have to be sought if a divorce is to occur. In a contested divorce the party requesting the divorce must prove that a ground for the divorce exists by developing and presenting evidence to the Court. Evidence that establishes grounds for a divorce comes in many forms and includes documents, receipts, letters, admissions, witness testimony, and on occasion photographs and/or recordings.

As Tennessee is a fault state, if no ground exists that makes a divorce proper, the courts will not grant a divorce. Tennessee law recognizes several grounds upon which the marriage may be dissolved. These grounds, or reasons, include but are not limited to inappropriate marital conduct, adultery, and abandonment. These three grounds are among the more common grounds upon which contested divorces are entered.

However, several other grounds exist at law which are not listed or addressed here. As such, you should seek legal advice to determine if one of the above three grounds or any other ground not listed here may exist thereby warranting a contested divorce. The time that it will take for a contested divorce to be obtained if a ground can be proven often depends upon the actions taken by the parties during the litigation, the specific issues that will be addressed in the suit, and the specific court in which the divorce is filed.

As a general rule, the more issues that are involved and disputed, the longer it will take to prepare the case for trial. As the time and work required by a contested divorce is greater than that required by an uncontested divorce, a contested divorce is typically more expensive than an uncontested divorce.

Issues in a contested divorce that may be involved include, but are not limited to the following: alimony; custody over children (i.e. designation of a primary residential parent); the amount of child support that will be paid; visitation (i.e. the child/children's residential schedule); whether any portion of the other party's retirement may be obtained; disputes over whether assets are marital property subject to being divided or separate property that may not be divided by the court; identification and valuation of debt and assets; and the development of evidence necessary to prove the ground/grounds for the divorce itself.

Deciding whether to pursue a contested or uncontested divorce in Tennessee requires carefully weighing all these factors and deciding what's best for your individual case.

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