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There are basically two ways to get divorced in Tennessee:
UNCONTESTED DIVORCE. This is the easiest and cheapest way to get divorced. In an uncontested divorce, a married couple signs written agreements including a Marital Dissolution Agreement (MDA) which is a contract for the fair division of marital property and marital debt. If the couple has children, a Permanent Parenting Plan is prepared which provides for each parties’ participation in the lives of the children. This method obviously requires agreements between the spouses, ahead of time, or gained through mediation.
Lawyers are not ethically permitted to give legal advice to both sides in a lawsuit, so often in uncontested divorces, one spouse pays a lawyer to prepare the documents necessary to gain the approval of the Court for the divorce. The other spouse should enlist the assistance of another lawyer in reviewing those documents before also signing them. However, once both spouses have signed the documents, they are submitted to the Court. Sometimes the Judge requires that one or both parties to an uncontested divorce make a court appearance before he or she will sign a “Final Decree” of Divorce. Some Judges will sign that Final Order without such an appearance. In either event, there is a waiting period between the date of filing the divorce documents and the date that the Judge is permitted to sign a Final Order or “Final Decree” of divorce—60 days without children; 90 days with children.
CONTESTED DIVORCE. When two spouses cannot agree upon a fair division of marital property and marital debt, or upon how they should share custody of children after a divorce, the only way to get divorced is for one spouse to file a lawsuit against the other spouse for divorce. Once the other spouse is “served” with the divorce (given an official copy), they have 30 days to file an “Answer”. Ultimately, if the parties cannot ultimately agree upon the terms of an agreed divorce before a trial, a Judge will hear testimony from both spouses and other witnesses if necessary, and will give his or her decision as to what constitutes a fair division of marital property and marital debt, whether or not alimony is appropriate, and if applicable, which parent should be the primary custodial parent, how much parenting time the alternate residential parent should have, and who should pay what amount of child support.