Tennessee Divorce Law FAQs

DarrowEverett Family Law Practice Leader Alexandria Hurst has worked with numerous families in navigating through divorces, and her depth of expertise and experience shows in the answers to these Frequently Asked Questions.

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Does it matter who files for divorce first?

Yes and no. At trial, when the judge is deciding asset/debt distribution and parenting schedules, who filed first is not a factor. However, pre-trial procedures can benefit the party who filed first. You set the tone and the timelines if you file first. When your spouse is served with the complaint for divorce, it puts them on a 30-day deadline to file an answer or risk getting into default. You want to be on the right side of that situation. You are also able to set the tone if you file the complaint first by either alleging all of the facts you have against your spouse or by keeping it bareboned and simple. You also benefit from being able to plan ahead if you are filing first (ie: getting your ducks in a row without your spouse knowing).

Can I withdraw money from our bank account?

Yes and no. Once there is a complaint for divorce pending, a temporary injunction goes into place against both parties enjoining and restraining you from liquidating assets, withdrawing abnormal amounts of money, canceling insurance on each other, etc. This also applies to 401k accounts and the like. Even if you technically withdraw a large sum the day before filing, the court still can order you to deposit the money back for the policy reasoning behind the injunction. However, normal expenditures that you would have made during the marriage are fine and the court typically understands that you must come up with a retainer to hire counsel, so those expenditures will likely not cause issues.

Can I move out?

Yes, but it may not be the smartest move. If you and your spouse can afford to double your household bills, (two rent/mortgage payments, two utility bills, etc.) then sure. Move out as it may be better for your mental health and it may be necessary for your safety. If you are the breadwinner and have historically paid the mortgage, you will be expected to continue to do so during the divorce so this would mean paying for a mortgage and your new rent each month. If you cannot afford to move out, lots of parties make it work for the pendency of the divorce to save money. There is also a risk if you move out of the marital residence before filing for divorce that you may be deemed to have “abandoned” your spouse. This could decrease your entitlement to the house’s equity. Also, note your spouse cannot change the locks and kick you out. If your name is on the deed/lease, it’s your house as well. If safety is a concern, an order of protection might be necessary to gain exclusive possession of the marital residence.

How is our health insurance coverage affected?

Once there is a complaint for divorce pending, a temporary injunction goes into place against both parties enjoining and restraining them from canceling insurance on each other among other things. Your coverage must stay in place for 30 days after the entry of the final decree of divorce to give you time to find new coverage. If the insurance company offers extended coverage, that may be an option to ask about. If you have children who are covered by one of you, then the court will decide who continues to cover them. Usually, it is the party who historically covered them or who has the best insurance. If the children are covered by TennCare, this is also something that can be ordered to stay in place.

What is the standard parenting plan?

I believe this is turning into a fallacy as time goes on. Parties often think “every other weekend” is standard, but the statute on point states that maximized time with each parent is in the child’s best interest which would be a 50/50 schedule. It also often depends on what county or what court you are in as to what that particular judge may routinely order. If you have a situation where one parent will be the primary parent and the other parent will have less than 50% visitation time, Davidson County Circuit Court judges often have awarded the alternate parent Thursday – Sunday every other weekend as well as a Wednesday overnight on the off week, week to week in the summer, and alternate holidays. However, every case is unique, and this may not be in your child’s best interest.

What if my name isn’t on the house?

If you were married while the house was purchased, it does not matter whose name is on what. In Tennessee, everything gained during the marriage is marital property with a few exceptions such as gifts and inheritances. If you weren’t married when the house was purchased, you still may a have a transmutation argument for at least a portion of the house’s increase in value.

How is child support decided?

Tennessee uses what is called the Income Shares Worksheet and follows the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines. In a nutshell, the court takes into consideration the parties’ gross monthly incomes, annual visitation day count, and number of kids to calculate support. Other factors play a role such as monthly health insurance premiums and daycare costs. It is worth mentioning you cannot waive child support like you can alimony.

Am I free to start dating?

Please don’t. It is best to just wait until the divorce is finalized. All it serves is to give the other side ammunition against you. If there are children involved, it is a bad idea as the other spouse may get an order against the “paramour” restraining and enjoining them from being in the presence of the kids. This can get difficult if you are living with a new partner. Even after the divorce is finalized, there is a 30-day appeal window so it’s also best to not re-marry until after those 30 days pass.

Do we have to go to mediation?

Yes. If you cannot settle without mediation, you must attempt to mediate before trial. It is a requirement, and most judges will not even give you a trial date until after mediation fails. But good news is that most cases do settle in mediation, saving you time, money, and stress.

Can our children pick which parent they will live with?

No. Your kids have a preference that the court will take into consideration starting at the age of 12. However, it is one factor of about fourteen that the judge considers, so it is not an end-all, be-all.

Will I have to pay my spouse’s attorney fees?

Maybe. But probably not. Most often, parties are responsible for their own attorney fees. In situations where one party was grossly at fault in the marriage or filed and lost several motions during the divorce, that party may be ordered to pay a sum of your attorney fees. The court looks at the requesting party’s need and the other party’s ability to cover the cost as well as other things. It’s not something to hold your breath for.

How long does the divorce process take?

As long as you and your spouse take. There are minimum time restraints of 30 or 90 days from the time the complaint is filed depending on if you have children or not. But most parties take much longer than these minimum waiting periods to complete their divorce. This depends upon how quickly they negotiate and settle or how long they litigate.

How much will a divorce cost?

It depends. If you have what is called an uncontested irreconcilable differences divorce with no real estate and no children, it can be very low in cost to get divorced. However, I have seen divorces with no real estate and no children get unnecessarily costly because one or both spouses are stubborn and litigious. The more motions and arguing required, the more it’s going to cost. Contact us so we can learn more about your situation and get you the help you need.

    These FAQs should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. These FAQs do not create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own attorney concerning any particular situation and any specific legal question you may have.

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