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Uncontested Divorce Process: Getting There Can Be the Hard Part

Dealing with the end of a marriage can be a difficult thing for people. This painful period can become worse if the divorce process itself turns acrimonious. The idea of an uncontested divorce may seem like the preferred way to go, and there are certainly cases where that’s true. But getting to the uncontested divorce process can be harder than the legal mechanisms within the court system itself.

The Requirements for an Uncontested Divorce in Tennessee

There are two different types of uncontested divorces, and we’ll get to both in a moment. The first thing we need to do is emphasize what these two paths have in common–both require an agreed-upon settlement to bring before the court.

That means the spouses must, first and foremost, agree that they are divorcing. They must agree that, at least for legal purposes, that no one is at fault. In practice, this means that if your spouse was unfaithful to you and that is the reason for the divorce, you agree not to file on those grounds. This decision alone has consequences.

Filing for divorce for fault-based grounds might result in better settlement terms for the aggrieved spouse. It can also be personally validating, to have a court recognize the legitimacy of the grievance. But it also requires hard evidence. That means a longer process and one that will, by nature, be contested. It will cost more money. It’s not uncommon for a genuinely victimized spouse to agree with their soon-to-be ex on a simple, uncontested divorce, one that will not take these sensitive personal matters and bring them into a public courtroom.

After the spouses agree they are divorcing, they must negotiate settlement terms. Property must be divided up. Who gets the house? Who gets the investment portfolio? Who gets everything from the car to the furniture? On the flip side, who gets the debt, ranging from the mortgage to any credit card balances?

All of this must be settled, and it must be done in a way that meets Tennessee standards of equitable distribution. Equitable distribution does not mandate that assets and liabilities be split on a 50/50 basis. But it does require that the final settlement meet the more flexible definition of equitable.

Part of an equitable settlement means determining what belongs to you and your spouse individually and what is your common marital property. For example, if you own a nice family heirloom that you brought into the marriage, that will likely be considered your separate property. You owned it prior to the marriage and the item’s value was presumably not enhanced or maintained by common marital property (e.g., the money you shared with your spouse).

Now let’s say you started a new job a year after you got married and have a 401(k) fund that’s building up nicely. It’s clearly in your name. Is it your separate property?

In this case, no. The key to understanding the difference between marital property and separate property is to look at their point of origin. If an asset–like your 401(k) started after you were married, it is marital property and subject to equitable distribution.

Now let’s consider you started this job with the 401(k) before you were married. Surely, it’s now separate property, right? Not so fast. Some of it will be. The portion you accumulated beforehand will be separate property. But the portion of funds in the account that built up after the wedding belong equally to your spouse.

This is just one example, but it underscores a simple fact–negotiating settlements can be complicated. And a settlement that is agreed on by both spouses is a prerequisite for an uncontested divorce.

Two Types of Uncontested Divorce in Tennessee

You will file an uncontested divorce in one of two ways. The first is through what’s known legally as agreed divorce. The second is for filing on the no-fault grounds of irreconcilable differences. The path you and your spouse take will be determined by your circumstances.

A couple filing for agreed divorce will not have any minor or dependent children. They will not jointly own real estate or a business, and not have retirement benefits. Situations where an agreed divorce might work is a young couple who got married right out of college. They’ve only been married a couple years, are renting their apartment and have yet to accumulate any assets. The agreed divorce can be a simplified way to end a short-term marriage.

Couples with any of the above–children still at home or dependent on them, who own property together or who have retirement benefits–need to file based on irreconcilable differences.

As a part of the divorce filing, the settlement agreement–officially called the marital dissolution agreement in Tennessee–will also be filed with the court. Once the settlement has been filed, you and your spouse are relieved of what can be the messy task of having someone formally served with divorce papers. The court’s receipt of the settlement is sufficient.

Timetable for an Uncontested Divorce

Tennessee law requires that couples who file for agreed divorce wait at least 60 days after the filing. For an irreconcilable difference filing, the waiting period is 90 days. After these timetables have elapsed, a family law judge can hold a hearing.

The judge will review the settlement agreement. Even though you and your spouse have agreed upon the terms, the judge still has the right to ensure it meets the standards of an equitable distribution. Courts will quite likely give your agreement a considerable benefit of the doubt, but the judge does serve as the last legal line of defense for a spouse who may have been unknowingly taken advantage of in a settlement agreement.

Presuming though, that the lawyers for both sides have done their due diligence with regard to property division, child custody, visitation and support, and any other issues requiring resolution, the court then signs off on the settlement and finalizes the divorce.

So, to answer your question of how long it takes to get an uncontested divorce in Tennessee, we’d say this–a minimum of two months, but in practice we would suggest being prepared to wait at least six months. Furthermore, that is only a timetable that starts when the divorce and settlement agreement are filed. The length of time it takes to secure your equitable agreement should be added on.

At Casey, Simmons & Bryant, PLLC we aim to provide our clients with efficient service–one that recognizes their desire to move forward to a new period of life, but still draws on our considerable experience with divorce cases to make sure every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed when it comes to the settlement agreement. We have spent over 30 years serving clients throughout Tennessee. Call us today at (731) 256-0023 or contact us online to set up an initial consultation.