The state of Tennessee has issued licenses for same-sex marriages since the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. Likewise, same-sex divorce in Tennessee became legal on the same date.
However, the judges can recognize gay divorce in Tennessee only if one of the spouses meets the state’s residency requirements. To be a bona fide resident, a person must live in Tennessee for six months and intend to stay in this state.
Only officially obtained marriages can be dissolved with subsequent division of property and award of spousal support. No matter how long a couple has been living together, they will not enjoy the same rights as officially married spouses in a divorce proceeding. Common-law marriage is not legal and was never legally recognized in Tennessee.
Same-sex divorce online
Divorce over the Internet is a quick and easy alternative for couples with an uncontested divorce. It means that they agreed on all issues of their separation in advance and ready to part amicably. Typically, same-sex spouses choose a do-it-yourself option because they can file for divorce in Tennessee without a lawyer, significantly reducing their expenses.
If you are married to a same-sex partner, you can get a divorce in Tennessee in a few easy steps on condition that your case is uncontested. After you have decided to prepare for your marriage dissolution by yourself, contemplate your options. The first one is to gather all the necessary documents on your own.
The second option is to use an online service, such as tennesseeonlinedivorce.com. This platform specializes in the preparation of same-sex divorce paperwork in Tennessee and is an inexpensive solution that excludes an attorney from the process. The website will send you completed printable documents for a small price of $139, which is more affordable than hiring a lawyer and get the same papers from them. Also, customer support will guide you through the process of filing your documents with the court.
Same-sex divorce papers in Tennessee
Marriage dissolution procedure is the same for gay and heterosexual couples and is subject to the same laws and regulations gathered in Tennessee Code, Chapter 36. So how to file a same-sex divorce in Tennessee? As was mentioned before, make sure that you or your spouse meet the residency requirements. Then, choose a county where one of them resides.
To begin the divorce process in Tennessee, one of the same-sex spouses must file a set of documents with the court. The exact forms may vary depending on the circumstances, for example, the presence of minor children. Same-sex divorce forms in Tennessee for childless marriages usually include a complaint/request for divorce, spouses’ personal information form, and a civil case cover sheet. On the other hand, same-sex divorce papers for couples with children in Tennessee include also a parenting plan form and the child support worksheet.
The above list of papers is not exhaustive. It can include other items according to the complexity of each case.
Valid grounds for same-sex divorce in Tennessee
Spouses in a same-sex marriage can file for divorce in Tennessee if one of them has lived in this state for six months before filing for divorce. When any of them submit a complaint for divorce, they must indicate reasons that led to a marriage breakdown. Tennessee Code § 36-4-101 provides the following no-fault and fault-based grounds:
- Willful abandonment for one year;
- The incapability of procreation of the other party;
- Conviction of a crime and confinement to prison;
- One of the spouses attempted to kill the other;
- Refusal to move to Tennessee and absence for two years;
- Continual substance abuse;
- One of the spouses forced the other to leave by undignified treatment;
- Irreconcilable differences;
- Separation for two years with no minor children.
A person can get a same-sex divorce in Tennessee on the grounds of irreconcilable differences if the spouses decided issues of child custody, support, and property division in a written agreement. If these requirements are met, same-sex spouses can file for divorce in Tennessee and obtain a final decree no sooner than 60 days after the commencement of the action.
Custody of the Child
Under Tennessee family law, both parents have equal rights concerning the custody of their minor children. The court usually chooses the type of care with the child’s best interest as a priority. Both parents can get joint legal custody, which means mutual decisions on the child’s health, education, and well-being. One parent will also be a primary custodial parent in terms of the child’s physical care (his or her permanent place of residence). The non-custodial parent will have visitation rights.
In a custody determination proceeding, a judge shall consider all relevant factors that can influence the child’s well-being:
- relationship between parents and a child;
- the disposition of each parent to provide a child with necessary care;
- the stability of the circumstances of each parent;
- mental and physical health of the parties;
- preferences of a child if he or she is 12 or older;
- evidence of domestic violence;
- other relevant circumstances (TN Code § 36-6-106).
Custody will not be given to a person charged with child abuse. Also, if a non-custodial parent abuses the child, his visitations will be either supervised or prohibited.
Each parent must attend a parenting class after the filing of a complaint. In this way, they will receive important information on the legal process and learn how to protect their children’s emotional health.
Tennessee law requires that couples with children provide support to every child after separation. The amount of child support is determined according to the state guidelines based on an Income Shares Model. It takes into account the parents’ combined adjusted gross income and the number of children.
The share of each parent in child support obligation is calculated in the same proportion as each party’s individual adjusted gross income is to combined one. Basic support includes food, housing, transportation, education, clothing, and entertainment.
When a child reaches the age of majority, graduates from high school, or becomes emancipated, the payments can be terminated by the motion to the court. However, if a child older than 18 is disabled, child support may be extended.
In any divorce proceeding, a judge can award alimony payments from one spouse to another according to the parties’ circumstances. There are several types of spousal support: rehabilitative, periodic, transitional, and lump sum (TN Code § 36-5-121). Below are the relevant factors that a judge may consider when determining the type, duration, and amount of alimony:
- each spouse’s earning capacity, financial resources, obligations, and needs;
- the education and training of each spouse;
- the length of marriage;
- age and health of the parties;
- if one of the spouses is a custodial parent;
- separate property of each spouse;
- the standard of living during the marriage;
- other relevant factors.
Either spouse can apply for a modification of the support order. A court may increase or decrease the amount of alimony if there is a substantial material change in circumstances.
In Tennessee, all property is divided equitably as long as it was acquired jointly during the marriage (marital property). Everything that belonged to each spouse before the wedding or received as a gift or inheritance after it is separate property cannot be divided between spouses.
How is property divided for same-sex couples? Divorce laws in Tennessee are the same for same-sex unions and heterosexual marriages. A judge will divide assets without regard to marital misconduct and according to the following considerations (TN Code § 36-4-121):
- the duration of the marriage;
- age and health of the parties;
- earning capacity and employment perspectives;
- contribution of each spouse to the education of another;
- contribution of each party to the acquiring, preserving, or dissipation of marital property;
- value of separate property of each spouse;
- social security benefits of each spouse;
- other factors.
Mediation, or dispute resolution, is an alternative way to resolve conflicts between the spouses concerning child custody, property division, and alimony. Couples with children are likely to be referred to mediation before a court hearing to reach an amicable agreement on a parenting plan. If the parties cannot agree, each of them has to propose an individual plan that will be reviewed by a judge.
The process of mediation is facilitated by a third neutral person who helps the parties to negotiate in a peaceful environment. All the materials gathered during and for negotiations are confidential. The cost of mediation is lower than a court trial, where a judge would resolve the contested issues as he or she deems fair.
Filing fees for same-sex divorce in Tennessee
Any marriage dissolution case requires a petitioner to pay a filing fee. It may vary according to local rules established in each county. For example, in Hamilton County, cases that involve children cost $260 to file, and without children — $185. These prices do not include serving the other spouse with the copies of the documents.
The decision of how to serve these copies also affects the amount of a filing fee. If you decide to use the Sheriff’s services, you will have to add approximately $50. A person married to a same-sex partner can also get a divorce in Tennessee if the spouse is out of state, but the Sheriff’s service may cost a little more in this case. There is an option to waive these fees if you cannot afford them. You will have to file an additional form of Request to Postpone Filing Fees and Order and provide necessary financial information that proves your inability to pay.
How long it will take
Divorce for same-sex couples in Tennessee can take three months to several years, depending on the type of case. The length of divorce process also largely depends on the presence of minor children. Uncontested cases without children have a minimum 60-day waiting period between filing and obtaining a final decree. As for couples with children, they will have to wait at least 90 days. Also, they can file for same-sex divorce in Virginia only if they submit a parenting plan and child support worksheet.
Contested cases are more complicated and require both spouses to go to a divorce trial. It cannot be fast by default. The more issues with property division and spousal support a couple has, the longer it would take to finalize their case.