If you are considering filing for divorce, or if your spouse is doing so, you are facing a difficult and emotional decision. However, understanding your various options may help in the decision-making process and help you determine your best path to a new start.
The State of Tennessee recognized two types of divorce, each with its own requirements and consequences.
Tennessee still offers the traditional way of filing for divorce on the basis of specific “grounds” (reasons)—such as adultery, alcoholism, drug use, physical cruelty, or the commission of a felony by the other spouse. The one most commonly used is “Inappropriate Marital Conduct,” which includes any series of misconduct that makes the continuation of the marriage unacceptable.
The official divorce process begins with a “complaint” being filed with the court. This document must include basic information about the parties and describe the grounds claimed for the particular divorce. Experienced Nashville family law attorneys know how to draft such a complaint so that it will properly support their client’s case and protect that client’s rights. After the filing of the complaint, Tennessee requires the parties wait for 60 days if they don’t have children, and 90 days if they do. This mandatory waiting period is intended to keep couples from making impulsive decisions regarding their marriage, as well as to provide time for the spouses to work out their differences. During this period, a couple may attempt to negotiate a divorce settlement. A judge may also require the parties to attend mediation before setting a trial date.
If no settlement is reached, or if only some of the issues are settled by agreement, the divorce will ultimately proceed to trial. In cases where people are represented by an attorney, that attorney will gather the necessary information from both spouses and determine how to represent the client’s interests as effectively as possible in front of a judge. The amount of preparation for trial will vary, depending on the complexity of issues presented by each case. During trial, attorneys would present testimony and other evidence to tell their client’s side of the story, and work to contest or counter any evidence presented by the other side.
In cases that proceed to trial, a judge will make the ultimate determination regarding any issues in dispute, such as the division of marital assets and debts, awards of support, and child custody. In contrast, if the spouses can reach a settlement, they would be making those decisions themselves.
For many couples who have made a good faith effort towards marriage but simply can no longer prolong their relationship, a more attractive alternative than going to trial is completing an agreed-upon “marital dissolution” agreement. This form of divorce is based on “irreconcilable differences.” Under this option, the parties complete an agreement in which they must agree on all issues, including an equitable (meaning fair) division of marital property and debts; spousal support; and, when applicable, a detailed parenting plan that addresses issues related to childrearing and the children’s living situation. An experienced family law attorney can help the spouses understand the requirement of an equitable division, and help draft a thorough and workable parenting plan, taking into considerations models that have proven successful, as well as the family’s own particular circumstances. Afterward, a judge must approve the agreement—and most judges will do so if the couple followed all appropriate guidelines.
Which is Right for Me?
Each person’s individual circumstances and needs are unique. In addition, sometimes the option that seems most favorable in the beginning may change after further consideration. Either way, whether you are considering filing for divorce or have been served with divorce papers, you should discuss your case with an experienced family law attorney.
Based in Nashville, attorney Amanda Raye Thornton focuses exclusively on family law matters. She has represented clients in disputes involving child custody, child support, domestic violence, alimony, equitable division of marital property, and a variety of related issues. She understands both the emotional and the practical issues raised by divorce, is familiar with local family courts, and is ready to work with you to pursue the most advantageous and appropriate course for your personal situation.
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