Divorce and Child Custody Laws in Tennessee
- Tennessee custody laws do not make any assumptions about arrangements.Child image by Serenitie from Fotolia.com
The decision to divorce requires legal intervention to officially end the union and decide many important matters, such as property division and child custody. Though divorce laws and proceedings, including those of Tennessee, contain similar provisions state to state, many aspects of these laws are state-specific, such as residency requirements and acceptable grounds for divorce. Like any aspect of law, things can be complex and anyone with questions regarding Tennessee divorce laws should contact an attorney.
- If the grounds for divorce occurred in Tennessee, the law does not impose any minimum residency requirements, but the petitioner (person filing for divorce) must have lived in the state at this time. If the grounds occurred in any other jurisdiction, however, at least one party must have lived in the state at least six months before a Tennessee court would have jurisdiction over the case. The petitioner can file in the county in which she lives or her spouse lives if different from each other.
- The petitioner must list the grounds on which he seeks to dissolve the union. Tennessee offers several grounds that include no-fault and fault reasons. No-fault grounds include living separately for at least two years when the couple does not have any minor children or irreconcilable differences. The court can only accept the latter ground if both spouses agree to this and submit a divorce agreement outlining matters such as property division and spousal support or if the petitioner includes this ground with other fault grounds.
Fault grounds include adultery, substance abuse, desertion for one year, a felony conviction with imprisonment or conviction for a crime of infamy, cruelty, neglect or abandonment, bigamy, impregnation by another man at the time of the marriage, refusal of the spouse to move to Tennessee for at least two years and indignities.
- Tennessee law calls for an equitable division of property, which implies fair but not necessarily equal. The court would prefer the parties to reach an agreement beforehand, but if they cannot, it will divide the property after taking several factors into account. Relevant factors include but are not limited to tax consequences of property division, economic circumstances of each spouse once divorced, each spouse's contribution to the marital property, including homemaker contribution, length of the marriage, education and job training and the ability of each party to accrue future income and assets. Tennessee law does not allow the courts to take marital fault into account.
- Tennessee law permits the court to award alimony on a temporary or indefinite basis. Relevant considerations include separate and marital property, whether the receiving spouse needs to care for a child whose circumstances make it undesirable to work, standard of living throughout the marriage, contribution to the marriage, education, job training, age and health.
- If the couple cannot come to a court-approved arrangement regarding child custody, the courts will decide and, like every other state, will rule based on the best interests of the child. Tennessee law does not make a presumption that any one arrangement, such as joint custody, will be better than another. Unless the court finds otherwise, it will not grant custody to a parent who has been convicted of sexual crimes against a child under 18 years old. This parent might still have the right to supervised visitation, however.
In determining custody, the court will take several factors into consideration. They include but are not limited to the ties to each parent, the extent to which one parent served as the primary caretaker, the stability of each parent, any evidence of abuse, the character of anyone sharing the residence of the parents and the preferences of any child 12 and older. The court will also consider, if in the best interests of the child, each parent's willingness to allow the child to maintain a relationship with the other parent. It will also take preferences of younger children into consideration when requested, but this would not be given the same weight as older children.
If the parents have joint custody, Tennessee law grants parents certain rights when the child is not in their care. They include the right to phone conversations twice a week, notice of illness, injury or other relevant matters within 24 hours, 48 hours' notice of extracurricular activities such as sporting events and the right to view medical and school records.