Either you’ve already filed or you’re still considering divorce. But once the decision is made, what happens?
First you need to hire the right attorney. Understand that the state of Tennessee is permeated with laws about the details of divorce procedures, making it difficult to interpret on your own. Consulting an experience professional in the field of family law is paramount.
The divorce process begins when one spouse files a Complaint for Divorce. This document lays out your reasons for filing, details about the marriage, and asks the court for specific remedies like alimony, parenting time and attorney fees. Once the Complaint is filed, the Court Clerk will complete a Summons document. Both the Complaint and the Summons will then be presented to the spouse. Once ready, the spouse presented with the Complaint and Summons can file an Answer and a Counter Complaint.
One thing to note: Once the filing for a Complaint for Divorce is processed, both spouses are held accountable by the courts. This means neither of you are allowed to sell or transfer assets, which can result in incarceration and being placed in contempt of court.
This is the stage in the process where the parties ask for and exchange information that will help the lawyers determine how much assets are worth, how much debt the parties have, what sort of behavior (such as adultery) the parties have engaged in, and what type of parent the parties have been and will be. The lawyers send requests for production of documents as well as interrogatories, which are questions that help the attorneys gather the information they need to develop a settlement proposal or strategy for trial.
Other types of discovery include subpoenas, depositions and requests for admissions. Sometimes the parties agree to exchange information informally, although this does not work in every case, as informal discovery is not under oath. When discovery is exchanged “under oath”, the party swears to the accuracy of the information and can be held in contempt of court for perjury if it turns out the party was lying about that information. Occasionally, a business valuation is necessary when a party owns part or all of a business and the value of that business needs to be determined.
After the parties and their attorneys have developed a thorough understanding of the assets, liabilities and issues in the case, negotiating a settlement can be the best strategy to preserve assets and conclude the litigation quickly and discreetly without the expense and public exposure of trial. Sometimes the lawyers can negotiate a settlement between themselves. In more complex cases, or cases where the parties have widely differing views of what settlement should look like, a mediator can help to resolve the issues. Mediation involves hiring a mediator who works with both parties to reach a settlement. The mediation process typically takes up to a day, but sometimes multiple mediations are required to bring the parties to an agreement. Issues to be resolved in mediation include both the financial settlement and parenting plan, if the parties have minor children.
While mediation involves the expense of hiring a mediator, it is financially preferable to the expense of trial.
When parties cannot reach a settlement, the attorneys prepare for a trial of the issues. The trial judge hears the evidence, which includes testimony from the parties, and sometimes financial, mental health, and other professionals who help the judge understand the financial picture and the family dynamic. The judge will rule on the division of property, alimony, and child support as well as determine a parenting plan if minor children are involved. In Tennessee, the judge has jurisdiction over the children and the ability to modify the parenting plan until the children turn 18.