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Chattanooga Divorce Law

About Divorce Law

The process of divorce is filled with a number of emotions, including sadness, anger, stress and confusion. Our attorneys work hard to make the divorce process more manageable and less stressful on you by keeping you in the loop and explaining each step as we go.

Our lead divorce attorney, Chris Clem, is the only divorce attorney in southeast Tennessee who has an accounting background. Chris served in the state legislature (2000 – 2006). During his time in the legislature, he helped rewrite the divorce and custody laws in the state of Tennessee. There is no one in the Chattanooga area who understands the divorce laws of Tennessee better than Chris. Additionally, with his background in accounting, his understanding of complicated division of assets, tax consequences and retirement accounts is unrivaled in the Tennessee Valley. Do not trust your divorce to an attorney without the necessary experience to protect your finances and custody arrangements.

Are you in the midst of a divorce? Learn more about your options by checking out our Tennessee Divorce Laws page, or simply Contact J. Christopher Clem to learn how he can help you through one of the most difficult times in your life—and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Fault Grounds

If the divorce will be on fault grounds, a party must prove by credible evidence, including testimony, that one or more of the following legal grounds for divorce exist:

  1. Impotency and the incapability of procreation
  2. Bigamy on the part of either spouse
  3. Adultery on the part of either spouse
  4. Desertion for two years or more
  5. Conviction of a crime which renders the party infamous
  6. Conviction of a crime (felony) and confinement to the penitentiary
  7. Inappropriate marital conduct or cruel and inhuman treatment
  8. Malicious or deliberate attempted murder of that spouse
  9. Habitual drunkenness or drug abuse
  10. Pregnancy at the time of the marriage by another man without the husband’s knowledge
  11. Refusal, on the part of a spouse, to remove with that person’s spouse to this state, without a reasonable cause, and being willfully absent from the spouse residing in Tennessee for two (2) years
  12. The husband or wife has offered such indignities to the spouse’s person as to render the spouse’s position intolerable, thereby forcing the spouse to withdraw from the marriage
  13. The husband or wife has abandoned the spouse, or turned the spouse out of doors for no just cause, and has refused or neglected to provide for the spouse while having the ability to so provide
  14. For a continuous period of two (2) or more years which commenced prior to or after April 18, 1985, both parties have lived in separate residences, the parties have not cohabitated as man and wife during such period, and there are no minor children of the parties


By statute, trial courts are directed to consider the following factors when determining whether alimony is appropriate and in determining the nature, amount, length of term, and manner of payment:

  1. The relative earning capacity, obligations, needs, and financial resources of each party, including income from pension, profit sharing or retirement plans, and all other
  2. The relative education and training of each party, the ability and opportunity of each party to secure such education and training, and the necessity of a party to
    secure further education and training to improve such party’s earnings capacity to a reasonable level;
  3. The duration of the marriage;
  4. The age and mental condition of each party;
  5. The physical condition of each party, including, but not limited to, physical
    disability or incapacity due to a chronic debilitating disease;
  6. The extent to which it would be undesirable for a party to seek employment outside the home, because such party will be custodian of a minor child of the marriage;
  7. The separate assets of each party, both real and personal, tangible and intangible;
  8. The provisions made with regard to the marital property, as defined in § 36-4-121;
  9. The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage;
  10. The extent to which each party has made such tangible and intangible contributions to the marriage as monetary and homemaker contributions, and tangible and intangible contributions by a party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party;
  11. The relative fault of the parties, in cases where the court, in its discretion, deems it appropriate to do so; and
  12. Such other factors, including the tax consequences to each party, as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121(i).

The disadvantaged spouse’s need and the obligor spouse’s ability to pay are the most important among these factors. Riggs v. Riggs, 250 S.W.3d 453, 457 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007). Ultimately, however, “the disadvantaged spouse’s need is the threshold consideration.” Id. Current Tennessee law recognizes several distinct types of spousal support, including (1) alimony in futuro, (2) alimony in solido, (3) rehabilitative alimony, and (4) transitional alimony. Gonsewski v. Gonsewski, 350 S.W.3d 99, 107 (Tenn. 2011) (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121(d)(1)).

General Types of Child Custody Arrangements

There are essentially three general types of child custody:

  • Full custody—In cases in which there are concerns about one parent’s commitment, fitness or ability to care for the children, the other parent may be successful in obtaining full custody. Under this type of arrangement, the children live with the custodial parent full time. The noncustodial parent may still have the right to short-term visitation with the children, which may be supervised if there are concerns about the children’s safety.
  • Joint custody—In most cases, there is a presumption that children benefit from having sustained contact with both of their natural parents. For this reason, joint custody is the most common custody arrangement. Even here, however; custody is rarely a true 50/50 split. One parent is the primary residential parent with whom the children spend most of their time and the other is the alternate residential parent with whom the children live for set intervals. The details of joint custody must be established through a court-approved parenting plan or otherwise imposed by court order.
  • Visitation—When one parent has full custody, the other parent usually still has a right to visitation. This is fairly more common in unwed custody cases involving fathers who had limited initial contact with their children or in cases in which there are concerns about either parent’s ability to care for the children.

Review a sample parenting plan which is required in all divorces with minor children.

Contested Divorce Process and Timeline in Hamilton County, Tennessee

Contested divorce process may be broken down into distinct tasks or phases.  Most contested divorces will follow the timeline set forth below:

  • Filing Complaint for Divorce—A Tennessee divorce begins with the filing of a Complaint for Divorce.  Filing for divorce puts the world on notice that a spouse is seeking a divorce. Filing fees in Tennessee vary from county to county, but are currently in the range of $184.50 without children, and $259.50 with children. In most counties divorce filings are published in the paper.
  • Servicing of Summons and Complaint on Spouse—After filing a Complaint for Divorce, these papers must be served on the spouse with a Summons requiring the spouse to answer the divorce papers.  The Summons and Complaint can be served in various ways: 1) by a Sheriff’s deputy, 2) private process server, or 3) certified mail, return receipt requested.  Upon being properly served with the divorce papers, the spouse has thirty (30) days to file an answer or answer and counterclaim.
  • Written Discovery—After the filing of the initial pleadings, i.e. divorce papers, an initial group of written discovery requests will normally be exchanged between spouses.  Written discovery must be answered completely within thirty (30) days from receipt of such discovery.  Written discovery includes Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents, and Requests for Admission.
  • Mediation—Mediation is an informal settlement process where the spouses with their respective attorneys meet with a mediator, an experienced matrimonial attorney who has specialized training to settle divorce cases.  Mediation must be completed before a case may be set for trial before a judge.  To properly prepare for mediation, each attorney will prepare and submit a Mediation Statement to the mediator.  The Mediation Statement details each party’s respective position with regard to all of the issues in the case.  The purpose of mediation is to give each party the mediator’s unbiased legal opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of their respective case for settlement purposes.
  • Depositions—After written discovery has been completely answered and mediation has failed, most attorneys will want a Discovery Deposition of the other spouse or any other fact witness before the trial.  The purpose of depositions is to know what the other spouse and all fact witnesses will testify to at trial.  These witnesses’ testimony is recorded by a court reporter, and the witness cannot change their testimony at trial.
  • Pendente Lite Hearings—Pendente Lite Hearings, or Temporary Hearings, are made early in divorce cases before the final trial of the divorce case.  The first time you will normally appear in Divorce Court before the Judge assigned to hear your divorce case is for a temporary order hearing. The most common issues heard pendent lite is to have the court issue orders regarding spousal support, child support, parenting time/schedule, and contribution toward marital expenses. The court will endeavor to maintain the status quo during the divorce to ensure that the family’s debts and expenses are being paid in a timely manner to avoid any foreclosure of real estate, repossession of personal property, cancellation of insurance, or disconnection of utilities.  It is very important to do well at the pendent lite hearing, as judges do not generally change their temporary orders until the final hearing of the divorce case.
  • Trial Preparation—Almost all divorce cases settle during the mediation process, and all but approximately 2% of all contested divorces settle before the final divorce trial. A competent contested divorce lawyer will fully and adequately prepare for trial. Most trial preparation time is spent preparing exhibits, meeting with witnesses, and finalizing legal arguments and positions. During this time, most contested divorce lawyers will meet with clients at least weekly to go over all exhibits and testimony to be adequately prepared.  A Proposed Division of Assets and Liabilities and Statement of Witness and Exhibits will be prepared and filed with the court seventy-two (72) hours before trial.
  • Trial—The purpose of a divorce trial is to present evidence to the court to convince the judge to see the important facts of your case from your perspective and to make a final decision on all issues in your favor.  The judge takes testimony from witnesses and receives evidence in the form of exhibits through the witnesses.  From the trial, the judge will make specific Findings of Facts.  The judge will then apply Tennessee divorce law to the facts of the case to render a Final Decree of Divorce.  The contested divorce trial process begins with both attorneys making a brief opening statement outlining the facts expected to be presented during the trial and suggesting how the judge should rule on the issues.  After opening statements, the Petitioner, i.e. person who filed for divorce, will go first, calling witnesses and introducing exhibits for the court to consider.  After each witness testifies, the opposing attorney can ask questions during the process known as cross examination.  After the Petitioner rests, the Respondent can call its witnesses and introduce exhibits through them.  After all of the witnesses have testified and all exhibits have been entered, each attorney will have the opportunity to make a final closing argument, summarizing the important facts elicited through testimony of witnesses and introduction of exhibits to convince the judge to rule in their favor.
  • Post-Trial—After the trial of the contested divorce case, a party may file a Rule 59/60 Motion to Alter or Amend the Final Judgment.  Additionally, within thirty (30) days of entry of a Final Decree of Divorce, a party not satisfied with the outcome of the case may file an appeal to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.


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Chris Clem Chattanooga Divorce Attorney
Firm Partner

J. Christopher Clem

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