Family Law FAQ

Q: How does a court split up property in a divorce?
A: Tennessee courts look at a number of factors in determining property division. Property that the parties have obtained since the marriage is usually considered marital property, with some exceptions, like property that has been inherited. Property owned before the marriage is generally considered to be that spouse’s separate property, but there are also exceptions, such as property that has been “transmuted” by being used for the benefit of both spouses. Tennessee courts use the statutory factors to determine an “equitable”, or fair division.

Q: What are grounds for divorce in Tennessee?
A: Tennessee is a “no fault divorce” state, which means that there doesn’t need to be any showing of wrongdoing on the part of one spouse for the other to file for divorce. In a “no fault divorce,” the party filing for divorce alleges that the parties are divorcing due to “irreconcilable differences”. In certain circumstances, a party may allege grounds, but is not legally obligated to do so in order to obtain a divorce.

Q: How long do divorce proceedings take?
A: Under Tennessee law, a couple with children must wait 90 days before the finalization of their divorce. A childless couple may divorce in 60 days. Despite these brief “cooling off” periods that are required by statute, most divorces take longer. If the parties are in agreement on the property division, alimony and parenting time, then a divorce can be completed easily within six months. When the parties disagree on a number of substantive issues, or the marital assets are complex, divorces can take years.

Q: What is the difference between legal separation and divorce?
A: Legal separation is not legally a termination of marriage. Couples may choose this option for financial or religious reasons. Contrary to popular belief, legal separation is not a faster route to separation from a spouse than an actual divorce. In legal separation, just as in divorce, the court must order a division of property, spousal support and child custody.

Q: Do I have to go to court?
A: At the end of a divorce, if the parties have agreed on all the issues and have filed a Marital Dissolution Agreement and Parenting plan with the court, then one of the spouses will go to court with their lawyer to answer a series of simple questions in front of the judge. In cases where mediation and other settlement negotiations fail, the parties will testify in court and the judge will decide how to resolve the issues.

Q: How does the court determine child custody?
A: If the parties cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court will look at the best interests of the children to determine child custody arrangements. Tennessee law requires the court to maximize each parent’s time spent with the children when possible. Tennessee courts have recently begun trending toward 50/50 parenting time.

Q: How is child support determined?
A: If the parties cannot agree on child support in mediation, the court follows the guidelines set forth in the statute, considering each parent’s monthly income, the number of children needing support, and other factors. A child support order can be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances for either parent.

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