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How Long Does a Divorce Take in Tennessee?

Steven C. Frazier, Attorney At Law  Feb. 27, 2024

Sad women with ring in hand thinking of divorceIn Tennessee, many divorces last just a few months, so you're looking at anywhere from 60 days to about half a year.  

However, highly contested divorces can take much longer due to the involvement of a judge and court proceedings. The length of time for a contested divorce in Tennessee varies greatly depending on the issues at hand, lasting anywhere from 18 months to two years.  

To prepare for Tennessee family court, both spouses should be aware of the divorce timeline and how to keep the process moving smoothly. This includes prioritizing negotiations and mediation while avoiding litigation whenever possible.  

But before I get into unpacking the details, I should note that there is no guarantee that any divorce, however amicable and straightforward, will proceed like clockwork. Delays are always possible. That's why it's important to have an experienced divorce lawyer in your corner to guide you through the process and help you handle any unexpected complications. 

Residency & Filing Requirements in Tennessee

According to Tennessee law, no initial divorce hearing can take place less than 60 days after the complaint was filed. If there are minor children from the marriage, then 90 days must pass (Tennessee Code § 36-4-101(b)). 

If you're filing for divorce in Tennessee, one of the spouses must at least be a six-month resident of Tennessee to initiate the case here. An exception to the six-month residency requirement may exist if emergency grounds for divorce arise within this state.

For example, if one spouse, who typically resides in Tennessee, is temporarily outside the state, but the misconduct or abusive behavior of the other spouse endangers the health and well-being of the resident spouse, Tennessee may still have jurisdiction, even if one of you has not resided here for the required six-month period. 

But say you recently moved to Tennessee because of your marriage issues, and you've only been a resident for five months. Your first option is to simply wait another month, and then file. If that is not realistic or feasible, then filing for divorce in another state where residency can be established more quickly may be a better option. 

It may be more practicable to file in the state where the other spouse resides (of course, depending on your specific circumstances). 

What Else Influences the Length of a Divorce?

No two divorce cases are identical. Several factors can significantly influence the timeline of a divorce, and it's these variables that often lead to the wide-ranging timelines you might have heard about. 

Contested vs. Uncontested

One of the primary factors is whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. In an uncontested divorce, both parties agree on all issues, including asset division and child custody. Being in agreement can expedite the process.  

However, in a contested divorce, where disagreements exist on various matters, the process often takes longer due to the need for negotiations or court interventions. 

The Complexity of the Case

The complexity of a divorce case can significantly lengthen the duration of the process. Cases involving high-net-worth individuals with substantial and diverse assets take longer due to the need for meticulous financial scrutiny and valuations.  

If a couple has diverse interests in real estate, businesses, or international assets, untangling these can become a complex affair requiring specialists, such as forensic accountants, to trace and appraise the value of the assets. 

Additionally, cases where child custody is in dispute tend to extend the divorce timeline. Determining what's in the best interest of the child or children requires a thorough evaluation, and when the parents cannot agree, a court may necessitate a custody evaluation by a psychologist, the appointment of a guardian ad litem, or other court-affiliated services. These steps are time-consuming and can introduce significant delays in finalizing the divorce. 

Other complexities may arise from spousal disagreements over alimony or the determination of what constitutes marital or separate property. Lengthy negotiations or recurring court hearings are often necessary to resolve these disagreements. This judicial back-and-forth can turn months into years when it comes to reaching a final divorce decree in Tennessee. 

Is There a Prenup?

If you have a prenuptial (or postnuptial) agreement that is comprehensive and well-drafted, it can streamline the process by predetermining the division of assets, alimony rights, and other relevant matters. This clarity can reduce the need for lengthy negotiations or court battles over these issues. 

However, the presence of a prenup does not always guarantee a quick divorce. If one party challenges the validity or fairness of the agreement, this could complicate the proceedings. Disputes may arise over whether the agreement was signed under duress, whether there was full financial disclosure by both parties at the time of signing, or if the terms are unconscionable. When challenges to a prenup occur, the court must investigate the claims, which could extend the duration of the divorce process significantly. 

Whether a prenup facilitates a swift divorce or adds a layer of complexity largely depends on the specifics of the agreement itself and the unique circumstances of each party. An expert Tennessee divorce attorney can help navigate these complexities and work towards the most favorable outcome for their client. 

The Court System

Another factor that can impact the timeline is the court's schedule and backlog.  

Judicial schedules can be unpredictable and frequently overloaded, making it difficult to secure court dates in a timely manner. In Tennessee, like in many states, family courts often have to juggle numerous cases, from divorces and custody battles to child support and adoption hearings. So the time at which you file your case can affect how soon you can get a court date.  

Delays can also occur if the judge presiding over your case has an emergency or if an important preceding case runs over its allotted time. 

If a particular court has a significant backlog of cases, it might be months before a judge is available to hear a new divorce case. Holidays, court staff changes, or any unusual spikes in the number of filings can add to these delays.  

Should your case require multiple hearings or a trial, each of these sessions will need to be scheduled—with intervals in between—undoubtedly extending the overall timeline even further. It is essential for those anticipating a divorce in Tennessee to bear in mind these potential delays and work closely with legal representation to manage their expectations and navigate the court system effectively. 

The Role of Mediation

Mediation plays a critical role in minimizing the length of the divorce process in Tennessee. As a dispute resolution tool, mediation involves a neutral third party who assists the divorcing couple in reaching an agreement on contentious issues outside of the courtroom setting.  

Opting for mediation can reduce the emotional and financial toll associated with drawn-out court battles, as it fosters a collaborative rather than adversarial atmosphere. 

If successful mediation leads to a signed marital dissolution agreement, the court typically honors the decisions made during mediation, provided they are fair and in the best interest of any children involved. This leads to a quicker resolution once the case is presented to a judge, allowing for an uncontested final hearing that often results in a finalized divorce decree.  

Thus, mediation is a beneficial step for anyone hoping to expedite the divorce process while also maintaining control over important personal decisions. 

However, mediation is not for everyone. If you have any concerns about your safety, such as a history of domestic violence, or believe that mediation may not result in fair and equitable outcomes, it's best to consult with a qualified divorce attorney before proceeding with any resolution strategy.  

Seek Your Best Resolution

The length of a divorce in Tennessee can vary greatly depending on numerous factors. While some divorces can be finalized in about three months, more complicated cases with significant assets involved may take weeks, months, or even years to resolve.  

As your attorney, I'll be by your side through it all. So, if you're considering separation or divorce in Tennessee, don't hesitate to reach out to my firm Steven C. Frazier, Attorney at Law in Kingsport, Tennessee. I'm proud to serve clients throughout Church Hill, Johnson City, Bristol, and Northeastern Tennessee. Let me guide you through the process and ensure you receive what you deserve in your divorce while safeguarding your future.