Contested Divorce Frequently Asked Questions

Helpful Information for Divorces in Tennessee

Should I Hire an Attorney for my Divorce?

Tennessee does allow you to represent yourself in a divorce case. However, these cases can become very complicated. It is suggested that, if possible, you retain a qualified attorney to help you navigate the various legal issues involved in simple and complex divorce cases.  

If you cannot afford an attorney, contact your local legal aid office or see if you qualify for the Nashville Bar Association’s Modest Means Initiative, which matches low-income clients with attorneys for issues like divorces or child custody agreements.  

We absolutely recommend at a minimum you have an attorney draft the paperwork for an uncontested divorce for any marital estates that include premarital assets, retirement accounts, real property, trust proceeds, disparate income, or minor children.  

These things require additional knowledge and language in documents that can result in serious problems if they are not properly addressed in divorce proceedings, and it is not uncommon for us to be hired to fix things postdivorce that wind up costing double or triple the cost of just hiring an attorney from the get go.  

How Long Will My Divorce Take?

There are two types of divorces in Tennessee: divorce based on irreconcilable differences and divorce based on fault (although, Tennessee is not a true no-fault state).

In regards to divorces based on irreconcilable differences, if there are no unmarried minor children, the minimum statutory waiting period is 60 days after the date the divorce is filed. If there are unmarried, minor children involved, the minimum statutory waiting period is 90 days after the date the divorce is filed.

If you and your spouse have already agreed on the property and parenting settlement terms, we can usually complete a divorce without children in 3-4 months and a divorce with children in 4-5 months, just depending on the procedure for finalizing a divorce in your county.  In regards to divorces based on fault, the statutory waiting periods also apply but it is impossible to determine on the front end how long it will take to negotiate an agreement and finalize it.  We have settled some cases almost immediately, and other cases have required a final trial.  

There are different levels of contestation of divorces and some are more amicable than others.

Contested divorces can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to complete depending on the necessary or desired motions, discovery, and trial.

On average, we resolve our contested cases within 8-9 months.   

Usually, it is quicker and less expensive to file a divorce based on irreconcilable differences and in many cases we recommend pursuing a settlement early to save costs, although in some cases it is not practical to be amicable given the facts at issue. 

Do I have to go to court to get divorced?

You may not have to go to court to get a final decree of divorce.

If you and your spouse can reach an agreement on all issues, you are allowed to “settle.”

A settlement can be reached between the parties by exchanging settlement agreements or at mediation. If a settlement is reached, only one spouse will go to court for the final hearing for most Tennessee counties, and some counties do not require an appearance at all if you are represented by an attorney.

If an agreement cannot be reached, both parties must go to court for a final hearing.

Can one lawyer represent both my spouse and me?

One lawyer cannot represent you and your spouse as there is a conflict of interest.  

However, if the divorce is uncontested some attorneys might represent one spouse and do all of the legal paperwork and the other spouse goes unrepresented or hires an attorney to just review the drafted agreements.  

However, if the agreement between the divorcing couple deteriorates, that attorney would continue to represent only the one spouse or neither spouse depending on the information disclosed in the drafting process.  

A mediator will represent neither spouse and is a neutral third party, although sometimes they will help you with the necessary documents for filing after your agreement is reached. 

How much will my divorce cost?

Unfortunately, there is no way to give an accurate estimate for how much a divorce will cost.  The three biggest factors in making the determination are court costs, attorneys fees, and you.


Filing costs or court costs vary per county but generally run between $200 and $500.  There may also be additional court costs for things such as continuances, service of process, or other court costs.  It is important to note most Tennessee courts do not have their own court reporters and you may be expected to pay for one yourself.


Attorneys fees will vary based on the individual attorney and the complexity of the divorce. An uncontested divorce with nothing left to work out, no real property, and no minor children will cost less than a divorce with real property, business assets, minor children, retirement funds, and many other variables.  

In a contested divorce, it is more difficult to estimate fees because of the uncertainty of how much work will need to be done on the case.

Most attorneys bill by the hour on contested matters and will usually require a large retainer up front or a smaller retainer which you will be expected to refill on a monthly or quarterly basis.  

Attorney fees vary greatly depending on the facts of each individual case, which is one of the main reasons we still offer our free fifteen minute consultations as usually that allows us to get enough limited information to give people an idea for a cost range for their case and determine if they can afford to proceed with the divorce with our office or need to seek more limited or unbundled services due to financial concerns.  

How is child support determined in Tennessee?

The amount of child support is usually determined by the Department of Human Services Child Support Guidelines using the Child Support Worksheet.  

You MAY NOT contract away your child support obligation, and all deviations from the guidelines must be approved by the court.  Tennessee’s Child Support guidelines are based on an Income Shares Model.

This means the goal is to have both parents support the child at the same level as if they were living together. Both parents’ combined income is used to determine the support needs of the child under the Tennessee Schedule of Child Support Obligations.

Then, the parents’ shares of the child support obligation are determined in proportion to their income amount.  

The judges in Davidson County and Williamson County are very strict about complying with the child support guidelines and you will need a good reason to deviate from the guidelines!

What if I’m not married to the other parent of my child and I need to determine child custody?

In Tennessee, when a child is born to unmarried parents the mother has default custody of the child.  

You may wish to come to an agreement between yourselves concerning visitation and support but the agreement may not be enforceable without filing a Parenting Plan with the court.  

If you are the Father of the child and the Mother will not let you see the child, you may need file a petition with the court to enforce your visitation rights.

What are the grounds for divorce in Tennessee?

A “ground” for divorce is a “reason” for divorce. Tennessee has several legally recognized reasons for divorce. You must allege one or more of these reasons in your complaint in order to justify your divorce.

Tennessee law permits both no-fault and fault grounds for divorces.

 A no-fault ground for divorce is irreconcilable differences.

The fault-based grounds for divorce include:

  •         impotency
  •         bigamy
  •         adultery
  •         desertion
  •         conviction of a felon
  •         sentence of imprisonment
  •         conviction of an infamous crime
  •         pregnancy of the wife without the husband’s knowledge by one other than the husband
  •         physical cruelty
  •         addiction to drugs or alcohol
  •         inappropriate marital conduct
  •         abandonment.
  •         irreconcilable differences

You must have some evidence of these grounds.   

Since Tennessee is not a true no-fault state and our irreconcilable differences provision requires a full and complete settlement agreement, we use inappropriate marital conduct as grounds when you do not fit cleanly into another area.

How long must I have lived in Tennessee before I can file for divorce in Tennessee?

If the acts that are complained of in the complaint for divorce were committed while the plaintiff (person filing for divorce) was a resident of Tennessee, the divorce can be filed in Tennessee.  

However, if the acts that are complained of were committed outside of Tennessee and the plaintiff resided outside of Tennessee at the time of these acts, at least one of the spouses must have resided in Tennessee for six (6) months before filing for divorce.  

The defendant will need to have sufficient ties and contacts to Tennessee if they do not reside in the state.  

If the acts complained of occurred outside of TN but the plaintiff resided in Tennessee at the time of the acts, you will want to wait until you have resided six (6) months in Tennessee before filing for divorce.  

The defendant will need to have sufficient ties and contacts to Tennessee if they do not reside in the state.

Do you only handle contested divorces?

No, we handle all family law matters including uncontested divorces, adoptions, parentage cases, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, and dependency and neglect matters.  

We like contested divorces because they do take longer which means we get to work in more depth with our clients and build more of a relationship with them and learn more about their family and needs and they tend to involve more court appearances which can be a little more fun from the perspective of your attorney.  

That said, we will let you know if we do not think your family law matter is a good fit and we are always happy to refer you to a colleague or other member of the bar that we think may be a better fit, since the most important thing to us is to make sure you are getting the best representation you can afford and that fits your needs, case facts, and personality.  

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