Filing a Tennessee Divorce Complaint

You may have mentally committed to the idea of getting a divorce—maybe you’re even already separated—however, no matter what your mental conviction, a Tennessee divorce doesn’t officially start until a complaint is filed.

A divorce complaint (commonly referred to as a “petition for divorce”), is a legal document that notifies the court you want a divorce, tells them why, and asks for their help in accomplishing that goal. Once filed, it marks the start of both your divorce, and the beginning of a new—hopefully happier—chapter of life. 

Here’s what you need to know about how to file a divorce complaint in Tennessee, and what the Byrd Law team can do to help you with this important process. 


Before Filing Your Divorce Complaint

Your complaint might mark the beginning of the end for your marriage (an ending you may or may not be excited for…), however, before you kick start the party, there are actually a few you’ll want to take care of, first. 

Before filing for divorce, take a second to ask yourself these three questions: 

  1. Do I qualify for residency? According to Tennessee family law, at least one of you must have been a resident in the state for at six months, prior to filing for divorce. Keep in mind that your individual county might also have a requirement (often, three months). 
  2. What type of divorce do I want? Highly contentious divorces (including at fault splits) will take longer and cost more money, while uncontested divorces are the opposite. Furthermore, alternative methods of resolution (such as mediation or collaborative divorce), offer more flexibility, and a better—less toxic—environment, overall.
  3. Do I want representation? Self-representation is always an option during divorce; however, Tennessee courts strongly discourage this. Family law is complex and mistakes here can be costly—sometimes impossible—to reverse. Meaning it’s almost always worth the cost to simply hire an attorney the first time around.

Answering these questions now will help you determine where you want the direction of your divorce to go, and help you avoid common pitfalls, along the way. 


Filing a Divorce Complaint

After you’ve answered your pre-complaint questions, congratulations! You are now ready to file for divorce. 

To get started on your divorce complaint process, simply follow these three easy steps. 

Step 1: Acquire and Complete Your Complaint

In Tennessee, all of your divorce documents are conveniently located online—including your official divorce request form. (Though, be aware, that the paperwork is different for divorces with kids, compared to those without). 

If you are the one filing for divorce, you should fill out the forms with yourself as the petitioner (or “plaintiff”), and your spouse as the “defendant.” 

To make things easier, have the following information, before you begin: 

  • Your personal information.
  • Your spouse’s personal information. 
  • The names and personal information for any minor children that you share. 
  • Your residency information (including address and county). 
  • Your divorce grounds (including fault, if relevant).  
  • Your dates of marriage and separation
  • All separate property and marital property information (including debt). 
  • Whether or not you’ll be seeking alimony. 
  • Whether or not you will be filing for a protection order. 

In addition to all this information, your complaint for divorce must also be signed and notarized by you. (Otherwise, it will not be valid.) 


Step 2: Complete Additional Paperwork

While a divorce complaint is certainly important, it’s actually only one aspect of filing for divorce in Tennessee. More likely than not, there will be several other documents you’ll also need to include with this request.

The specific forms you’ll need will vary, depending on circumstances; however, some of them could include:  

  • Divorce Agreement (for “agreed divorces” only)
  • Health Insurance Notification 
  • Permanent or Temporary Parenting Plan 
  • Parenting Class Certification 
  • Wage Assignment Order
  • Financial Declaration forms
  • Order for Temporary Relief

If you don’t know which documents to file, we recommend talking to a family law attorney. Divorce errors can be costly—sometimes irreversible—so it’s well worth the cost to make sure you get things right the first time. 


Step 3: File Your Paperwork

After completing the necessary forms, it’s time to file your divorce complaint with the court. 

In Tennessee, divorces are overseen by individual counties. Hence, you’ll need to take your paperwork to the county courthouse over your jurisdiction, and submit it with the county clerk. 

At this time, you’ll also be expected to pay a filing fee. This amount varies (depending on individual circumstances), but generally ranges between $180 to $300. 

You cannot receive a hearing, until this fee is paid. If you can’t afford it, however, then it’s possible to have it waived, so long as you include a completed divorce fee waiver, along with the rest of your paperwork. 

Be sure to make at least two copies of everything for your personal records, before filing—especially since you’ll need to use at least one of those copies to serve your spouse. 


After Filing Your Divorce Complaint

Once your forms have been processed, the last thing left is to notify your spouse that you’ve taken legal action. 

This step is called “service of process,” and it essentially just means “telling your spouse that you filed for divorce.” For it to count, however, it must be done properly. In Tennessee, this usually means that someone other than yourself must hand deliver divorce papers to your spouse, and return proof of service to the court.

A spouse who has been properly served has thirty days to file an answer. If they don’t, your judge may enter a default judgement in their absence. If they do, then you’ll both proceed on to either divorce settlement negotiations, or to trial preparation.


Do You Need Help with a Divorce Complaint in Tennessee?

Divorce laws are incredibly complex, meaning that filing for one can be a stressful endeavor, indeed. On the bright side, however, with the right representation, it doesn’t have to be as daunting as you might think.

For more questions on how divorce complaints work in Tennessee, we want to hear from you. Call the Byrd Law team at (423) 304-6827, or contact us online, and let us help you avoid common divorce pitfalls along your path to a new beginning. 


Author Bio

Sam Byrd is the owner and managing attorney at The Law Office of Sam Byrd. With hands-on experience in divorce, family law, criminal law, and DUI/DWI cases, Sam has been serving clients in Tennessee since 2012. He graduated with a J.D. from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in 2012 and holds a B.S. in Legal Studies from the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2009.

He began his legal career as a paralegal, working under his father’s guidance. Prior to that, Sam served in the United States Marine Corps as a member of the 2/7 Weapons Company stationed at 29 Palms, California.

Sam has received several accolades for his work, including being recognized as a Rising Star in Divorce & Family Law by Tennessee SuperLawyers in 2020, 2019, and 2018. He is also a member of The National Trial Lawyers’ Top 40 under 40, an exclusive professional organization for top trial lawyers under the age of 40. Sam’s commitment to continuous learning and improvement is demonstrated by his certifications in Trial Skills from the National College of DUI Defense in 2019 and 2018.

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