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Is a Legal Separation Required Before Divorce in Tennessee?

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How Are Legal Separation and Divorce Related in Tennessee?

Everyone enters into a marriage hoping that it will last forever. Unfortunately, as your lives continue, you may realize there are problems in your marriage that you cannot fix. At this time, you may be faced with the issue of what to do next. Legal separation and divorce are both options for couples in Tennessee.

Still, many people wonder what a legal separation entails and if they must get separated before they can legally divorce. A compassionate and knowledgeable Tennessee family law attorney can explain the differences between a legal separation and a divorce and the requirements for each.

Is Tennessee a No-fault State for Divorce?

The laws for divorce in Tennessee are different from many other states. While Tennessee does have some options for a no-fault divorce, you may be forced to prove fault to complete your divorce if your spouse chooses to contest it. This can make the divorce process much more challenging.

What Are the No-fault Grounds for Divorce?

You only have two options if you wish to file a no-fault divorce in Tennessee:

  • Irreconcilable differences: This is a commonly cited reason for divorce. However, it can only be used if both parties are willing to agree in writing that they have issues that make the continuation of the marriage untenable.
  • Two years of separation and no minor children: If you have no children or all your children are adults, your path to divorce can involve choosing to legally separate and live in different residences for two years. If there is no reconciliation after this time, you may file for divorce, and the other party cannot contest it.

What Are Your Options for Fault-based Divorce?

If your spouse does not agree to the divorce under irreconcilable differences and you do not meet the other grounds for a no-fault divorce, you will have to prove fault to dissolve your marriage. Tennessee law lists thirteen grounds for a fault-based divorce:

  • Sterility or impotence
  • Bigamy (being married to two people at once)
  • Adultery
  • Desertion without reasonable cause for at least one year
  • Being convicted of a crime that makes the party infamous
  • Being convicted of a felony and sent to prison
  • Attempted murder of the other spouse
  • Refusing to move to Tennessee with their spouse, resulting in at least a two-year separation
  • Being pregnant at the time of the marriage with another’s child without the husband’s knowledge
  • Becoming addicted to drugs or engaging in habitual drunkenness after getting married
  • Cruel and inhuman treatment or inappropriate marital conduct
  • Harming the spouse’s person
  • Abandoning, kicking out, or otherwise neglecting to provide for the spouse.

What is Legal Separation in Tennessee?

Legal separation is an option for couples who are having issues in their marriage and want to change their marital status but do not wish to divorce. The filing process is similar to a divorce, and you are required to provide grounds for your separation.

As part of a separation, you may legally sort out topics such as alimony, child custody, child support, division of assets, and more. The court’s rulings on these points during a legal separation are enforceable by law.

How Are Divorce and Legal Separation Different?

While the two processes have many similarities, the main difference is that a legal separation leaves your marriage intact. You remain legally married to your spouse and cannot marry someone else unless you seek a divorce first. You can also choose to end a legal separation at any time and resume your marriage if you are able to solve your marital issues.

When Would I Require a Legal Separation Before My Tennessee Divorce?

The only time you must be legally separated before your divorce is if you plan to use the no-fault grounds for divorce, which requires a two-year separation period before the divorce can be finalized. When used in this way, legal separation allows a person to seek a no-fault divorce, even if they are in a situation where their spouse will not agree that there are irreconcilable differences. However, you must have no minor children in the relationship to utilize this aspect of the law. In all other divorce situations, legal separation is not required.

Why Would Some Couples Choose Legal Separation Instead of a Divorce?

Aside from using legal separation as a pathway to a no-fault divorce, there are several reasons some couples choose this option over divorce. It provides a less permanent solution for those uncertain whether divorce is the right choice. The separated couple can have space to work on the marriage without officially calling it quits.

It can also allow a couple who are splitting amicably to retain and share benefits, such as health insurance, military pensions, and social security benefits. For other people, divorce is not an option due to their religious beliefs or their desire to remain a family for the sake of their children. Legal separation can allow both parties to maintain their own lives, homes, and finances without the difficulties of a divorce.

When Should You Reach Out to a Lawyer?

If you are considering a legal separation or divorce, you should contact a trusted lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options and begin preparing for this significant life change. An experienced Tennessee divorce attorney can help you understand the state’s divorce laws and how they may impact your decision-making.

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