About Tennessee Divorce Law

By Bernadette A. Safrath
Tennessee's divorce laws cover child custody, alimony and other important aspects.
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Nearly half of all couples married in the United States today end up seeking a divorce. A state's divorce laws often ease the stress of a divorce by clearly setting forth each spouse's rights. Tennessee's divorce laws address residency requirements, grounds for divorce, child custody and support, alimony and division of marital property.


Tennessee courts hear divorce proceedings only when the filing spouse, or petitioner, is a state resident. If the marriage fell apart because of an event that took place outside of Tennessee, the petitioner must be a resident for at least six months before filing in the state. The petition for divorce should be filed in a Tennessee circuit court, in either spouse's county of residence.


Grounds for divorce are the reasons for wanting to end the marriage. Tennessee recognizes two no-fault grounds: a two-year separation prior to filing, so long as the couple has no children, and "irreconcilable differences." Additionally, a divorce can be granted on fault grounds. Permissible fault grounds in Tennessee include: abandonment; adultery; alcohol or drug addiction; bigamy; incarceration; and cruel and inhuman treatment.

Child Custody and Support

In Tennessee both parents have an equal right to seek custody of any children, regardless of gender. Courts prefer joint custody so children can have continuous contact with both parents. Custody is decided according to the "best interests of the child" standard. The factors considered include: the child's preference, for those at least 12 years old; parents' physical and mental health; ability of each parent to provide a stable home environment; whether either parent may be unable to provide adequate clothing, food and medical care; the child's primary caregiver; and any history of child abuse.

The non-custodial parent is then obligated to pay child support until the child turns 18. The support amount is determined according to the non-custodial parent's income, as well as the number of children in need of support.


Alimony is paid by one spouse to the other in order to provide for the requesting spouse's basic needs. When determining if alimony is appropriate and for how long it will be paid, a Tennessee court will examine several factors: the age and health of both spouses; length of the marriage; whether the requesting spouse has custody of the children and is therefore unable to work; each spouse's assets, income and ability to earn income; the standard of living established during the marriage; and each spouse's contribution to that standard of living.

Division of Property

In a divorce, each spouse is entitled to retain ownership of separate property. Separate property includes any premarital assets, as well as any family inheritance received during the marriage. All other property is divided according to "equitable distribution" in Tennessee. This means fairly, but not always equally. A court will look at several factors: age and health; length of the marriage; financial situations, including income and value of separate assets; and each spouse's contribution in the acquisition of the property being divided.