Part Two: Reading the Documents – The Divorce Complaint

The Divorce Complaint is the main divorce document.  This is the document that says you want the divorce.  There are several correct ways for attorneys to draft a divorce complaint, and some attorney’s have reasons for drafting things the way they do.  However, each divorce complaint can be broken down into three main parts: the statistical information, the factual information, and the prayer for relief.

Typically, the statistical information is contained in the beginning of the divorce complaint.  This is the portion that lists names, addresses, dates of marriage, children, etc. for the Court.  The statistical information contained in a divorce complaint is governed by statute, and specifically the T.C.A. Section 36-4-106.  This statute also requires that social security numbers be filed with the court, but under seal.  This is because divorce complaints are public record so you don’t want your social and identifying information available to the public.  You can find the grounds for divorce the spouse is going forward under in the statistical section, as well as further on in the complaint.

The next section in a complaint is the fact section.  This is where people put the meat of the divorce.  Some fact sections are very vague, especially uncontested divorce complaints.  Since divorce complaints are public documents, many people also choose to keep the facts of a contested divorce complaint very limited and basically only list the full statutory grounds, the type of property, and if there are kids.  Many people don’t want the public to know their business, or they have children who they do not want to be able to find out details of the divorce when they get older.  Other contested divorce complaints lay it all out there in the hope that it freaks out the receiving spouse and causes them to run and do something stupid.  This is why you should always wait a day or two before acting on anything after you receive a divorce complaint.  Don’t fall into the trap!

The last section in a divorce complaint is the prayer for relief.  This is where the party lays out in a succinct fashion what they are asking for from the Court.  Usually the first prayer will be for service and for you to answer the complaint.  After that, there will be information that is very important, such as whether or not they are asking to be the primary residential parent (aka asking for custody), for certain property, or for alimony.  Usually it will end with a general prayer for relief, which is basically a way to try to save a complaint that may have left something out.  Sometimes, if the party is seeking an expedited hearing for spousal support or a parenting provision, or a temporary restraining order, it will be listed in the prayer for relief as well.

It is important that you take a day or two to process the information.  Read the document closely, and then call your attorney to make an appointment to go over the complaint and discuss your next steps.

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