Tennessee has two types of divorces: uncontested, which are usually based on irreconcilable differences, and contested, which require proof of grounds for divorce.
An irreconcilable differences divorce requires that the parties agree to be divorced and wait ninety (90) days – 60 days if there are no children. You must have a written Marital Dissolution Agreement that makes a fair and equitable division of your property. If you have children you must also have a Parenting Plan that makes adequate and sufficient provisions in writing for the custody and support of the minor children of the marriage. There are also additional technical requirements, but the Marital Dissolution Agreement and an agreed Parenting Plan are the essence of an irreconcilable differences divorce (see Marital Dissolution Agreement and Parenting Plan sections below). As for assessing fault for the marriage breakdown, you only need to say that differences have arisen that will prevent you from living together as husband and wife.
A traditional contested divorce is a case in which the parties cannot agree and must go to trial. The grounds for a contested divorce are:
- Habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotic drugs that has worsened since the marriage
- Living separately and apart for two (2) years with no minor children
- Willful or malicious desertion for one (1) full year without a reasonable cause
- Conviction of a felony and sentencing to the penitentiary or conviction of an infamous crime
- Pregnancy of the wife by another before the marriage without the husband’s knowledge
- Willful refusal to move to Tennessee with your spouse and living apart for two (2) years
- Malicious attempt upon the life of the other
- Lack of reconciliation for two (2) years after the entry of a decree of separate maintenance
- Impotency and sterility
- Cruel and inhuman treatment (which may also be referred to as “inappropriate marital conduct”)
- Indignities offered by one spouse to the other
- Abandonment of the wife in which the husband refuses or neglects to provide for her
The specific wording of the grounds statute can be found in the Grounds Appendix.
If you are filing for divorce, you should have your grounds before you file. If you cannot prove your grounds for divorce, accusing your spouse of these grounds may be grounds for divorce for your spouse. Pending the final divorce, you should not do anything to give your spouse any grounds for divorce because it can probably be used against you.
The legislature amended the law a few years ago and allowed parties to stipulate (agree) who is guilty of what grounds and inform the court of that stipulation.
Defenses to the grounds for divorce include:
Condonation – knowing what your spouse did wrong but forgiving him or her anyway; this is usually proven by showing that you and your spouse had sexual relations after you found out what your spouse did. This currently only applies to adultery.
Insanity – a defense to divorce if the person who is guilty of the grounds for divorce was insane when he or she committed the act. The insanity must be to the same degree as in a criminal case. If the person is insane at the time of trial, the case can still proceed against him or her but the court will appoint a lawyer to look after his or her
The law of defenses is changing and for technical reasons the defense that sounds as though it applies in your case might not apply. Ask your lawyer about it.