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How to Get a Free Divorce in Tennessee

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How to Get a Free Divorce in Tennessee

Getting divorced can be an emotionally draining and financially burdensome process. With legal fees, filing costs, and other expenses, the average divorce in the US costs between $15,000-$20,000.

However, it is possible to obtain an uncontested divorce without an attorney in the state of Tennessee for free or very low cost if you meet certain eligibility requirements.

In this article, we will outline the steps to get a divorce pro se (representing yourself without a lawyer) in Tennessee while keeping legal fees to a minimum. Let’s begin.

Understanding Divorce Grounds and Requirements in Tennessee

Before exploring free or low-cost divorce options in Tennessee, it’s important to understand the basic grounds and requirements for obtaining a divorce. Tennessee is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning you do not need to prove fault or wrongdoing by your spouse to get divorced. The two options for grounds in Tennessee are:

Irreconcilable Differences – This is the most common ground for divorce. To file under irreconcilable differences, you and your spouse must have lived separately and apart without cohabitation for at least 6 consecutive months prior to filing for divorce.

Inappropriate Marital Conduct – This ground requires proving conduct by your spouse that renders continued cohabitation unsafe or improper, such as abuse, adultery, criminal conviction of a felony, or abandonment.

In addition to establishing one of the above grounds, Tennessee requires the following for an uncontested divorce:

  • You or your spouse must have been a resident of Tennessee for at least 6 months prior to filing.
  • You and your spouse must agree on child custody, visitation, and child support (if applicable).
  • You and your spouse must agree on the division of marital assets and debts.
  • If there are any minor children of the marriage, a Parenting Plan must be submitted with the final decree.

Understanding these basic requirements is crucial to determining if you are eligible to obtain an uncontested divorce without an attorney in Tennessee. Let’s explore the specific options.

Filing for Divorce Pro Se in Tennessee

If you meet the residency and ground requirements, have no minor children, and have reached an agreement with your spouse on all issues without the need to argue over assets or support in court, you may be able to obtain an uncontested divorce without an attorney via a process known as “filing pro se.” Here are the basic steps:

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Get the Required Forms – Download the necessary forms packet from the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts website. This includes the Complaint for Divorce, Marital Dissolution Agreement (covers property and debt division), and Final Decree of Divorce.

Complete the Forms – Fill out all sections of the forms completely, including the grounds for divorce, personal information for both parties, addresses, marital assets/debts, and notarized signatures. Double check for accuracy and completeness.

Make Copies – Once forms are fully completed, make 2-3 copies – one for your records, one for your spouse, and the original to file with the court.

File with the Court – Bring the original completed forms packet and filing fee (usually $150-300 depending on county) to the Circuit or Chancery Court Clerk’s office in the county where you or your spouse has resided for the past 6 months. The clerk will assign a case number and judge.

Served Notification – By certified mail or process server, serve your spouse with a copy of the filed Complaint for Divorce. This notifies them you have started the legal process.

Wait 30-90 Days – Tennessee requires a minimum 30 day waiting period from the date your spouse was served before a divorce can be finalized by the court. Some counties require up to 90 days.

Submit Final Decree – Once the waiting period ends, contact the court to schedule a final hearing. Both parties must be present at this brief uncontested hearing. If approved, the judge will sign the Final Decree, legally ending your marriage.

By carefully following this process yourself, it is possible to obtain an uncontested divorce in Tennessee for just the basic filing fees of $150-300 without paying additional attorney costs. However, proceeding pro se involves significant responsibility and is not recommended if there are any disputed issues that may require arguing in court.

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Getting Help Filing Pro Se in Tennessee

While it is possible to complete the divorce forms and navigate the pro se process yourself, there are a few low-cost options available if you need legal guidance along the way:

Law Libraries – Many county and university law libraries in Tennessee offer printed self-help divorce paperwork and manuals, along with reference librarians who can help explain procedures. No direct legal advice is given.

Court Form Assistance Clinics – Some counties hold periodic free or low-cost divorce form completion clinics led by attorneys or family law facilitators. Clinics ensure all required paperwork is accurately filled out prior to filing.

Tennessee Legal Aid – Nonprofit legal aid organizations may be able to provide free limited legal services, including reviewing completed forms and joining a final hearing, for those who qualify based on income.

Document Preparation Services – While not attorneys, some private companies offer legal form preparation and calendaring services for a single flat fee that is often significantly lower than hiring a lawyer.

Using any of these resources can help simplify and ease the stress of representing yourself in court for a divorce. Just be sure to extensively research credentials of any for-profit services to avoid potential scams. With careful preparation and organization, it is indeed possible to complete the Tennessee divorce process affordably as a pro se litigant.

Options if Your Divorce is Contested

While filing pro se can work well for uncontested divorces in Tennessee, representing yourself becomes much more difficult if your spouse contests issues like child custody, child support amounts, or division of assets and debts during divorce proceedings.

Some things to be aware of include:

Contested divorces typically require multiple additional court filings and hearings over many months that are more complex to navigate without an attorney.

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You will be responsible for properly introducing evidence, following procedure and local rules, effectively cross-examining witnesses, and making complicated legal arguments on your own behalf.

There are strict rules of evidence and procedure in family court that non-lawyers often don’t understand fully and could negatively impact the outcome of their case if not followed.

Pro se litigation is disadvantaged against an opposing party who is represented by an experienced divorce attorney. You are far more likely to lose requested relief or make avoidable mistakes.

If issues cannot be easily agreed upon out of court and judicial intervention seems inevitable, most experts recommend hiring a licensed divorce attorney familiar with family law procedure in your local Tennessee jurisdiction.

An attorney might require additional upfront fees over filing pro se in other to help settle cases more quickly and achieve a fair result where self-representation falls short. Attorney fees may be sought from the other party depending on the circumstances as well.

Summary

In summary, getting an affordable or free divorce in Tennessee is certainly possible through a process known as pro se filing if certain eligibility requirements and criteria are met.

However, completing legally valid paperwork and presenting an uncontested divorce with no evidentiary issues in court requires substantial preparation, responsibility and risk if done without guidance from trained legal professionals.

Low-cost assistance options aim to simplify the complexity of pro se divorce for those who cannot otherwise afford representation. But in the case of contested custody, support or property matters, retaining an experienced family law attorney whenever financially feasible is generally recommended for the best chance of a satisfactory outcome in Tennessee divorce court.

With careful planning and diligent execution of requirements, obtaining a dissolution of marriage need not break the bank if you qualify for an unchallenged pro se procedure.

Also Read: Divorce Advice (Colorado); Everything You Need To Know

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