The Divorce Process
Every divorce is different. As you can imagine, the personalities of the people (or parties) involved and the complexities of their marriage produce a variety of divorce situations. Some divorces can be completed in as little as 60 days, while others may take several months or even longer.
Step 1: Complaint for Divorce
Every divorce in Tennessee begins the same way, with a filing of a Complaint for Divorce. One spouse will file this document and ask the court to do some, if not all, of the following:
- Dissolve the marriage,
- Order child custody and visitation,
- Order child support,
- Divide the marital property,
- Order alimony to a spouse.
Step 2: Service of Process
The person who filed for the divorce (the Petitioner) is responsible for serving the divorce documents on the other spouse (the Respondent). This is often done through a sheriff’s deputy or private process server. Once served, the Respondent has 30 days to file a response to the Complaint (an Answer). If the Respondent does not file an Answer within the required amount of time, the Petitioner may ask the Court to grant them a divorce by default.
Step 3: Informal Negotiations
After all the paperwork is properly filed and served, the couple may begin to attempt to settle the divorce. If they can reach an agreement as to all issues, then they have achieved an Agreed or Uncontested Divorce. If they cannot agree on all issues of their divorce, then the divorce is Contested and the process continues. Although listed here as “Step 3”, negotiations often continue throughout every stage of the divorce.
Step 4: Temporary Hearings
In some situations it may be advantageous to have a Temporary Hearing (often referred to as a Pendente Lite Hearing) to resolve some preliminary matters like temporary visitation and support. Think of these as “mini-trials” where both sides appear before a judge to argue limited issues. Although these hearings are only designed to address specific issues and not the entire divorce, they are very important as they will have repercussions throughout the rest of the divorce.
Step 5: Alternative Dispute Resolution (Mediation)
In Tennessee, before having a final trial spouses are required to attempt to resolve their divorce through mediation. In some limited circumstances the mediation requirement may be waived, but the vast majority of divorces will go though the mediation process.
Mediation is simply a form of formal negotiations where a neutral third party (the Mediator, often an attorney) assists the parties in resolving their divorce before going to trial. Most mediations in Tennessee are conducted with the parties in separate rooms. The mediator will walk back-and-forth between the rooms exchanging offers, asking questions, and assisting the parties in reaching an agreement. Most divorces are resolved through mediation so it is very important to have an attorney who understands how to best utilize that process.
Step 6: Discovery
Although listed here as “Step 6”, Discovery is often conducted at various stages of the divorce and frequently before mediation is attempted. Discovery is simply the formal method attorneys use to “discover” information about the other side. In family law, discovery most often takes the form of Interrogatories, Requests for Production, and Depositions.
Interrogatories are lists of questions that must be answered under oath. Requests for Production are, quite literally, formal demands for a party to produce specific documents or other potential evidence. Depositions are formal and recorded sessions of attorneys asking questions of the parties with the parties being required to answer under oath.
The more complex the divorce, the more lengthy the discovery process will be.
Step 7: Trial
If all attempts of resolving the divorce have failed, the last resort is a contested trial before a judge. In many ways a divorce trial is what many people expect a legal proceeding to be. Attorneys make statements to the judge, ask questions of witnesses, and make various objections and arguments to advocate for their clients. A divorce trial can last anywhere from a couple hours to several days.
At the end of the trial, a judge will make a decision and that will be a final resolution to the divorce. It is important to note that judges often take time to fully consider the evidence presented and it is common for a judge to issue his or her ruling weeks, or even months, after the divorce trial.
Once a judge has made a decision that decision is memorialized on a document known as an Order and the parties are finally divorced. If one or both sides are unhappy with the judge’s Order, either side may appeal the judgment. This would begin the appellate process.
The above steps are only intended to give you the most basic understanding of the divorce process. If you’re ready to talk to one of our divorce attorneys and continue learning about how we can help you though this process, please contact us at (931) 398-5222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.