Divorce of a spouse can be a difficult event, physically and emotionally. When you are faced with tough decisions, sometimes it is helpful to know what you are up against. Here is a list of some common issues and questions that face couples when getting divorced in Tennessee and also helpful tips on how to handle them:
Are you ready for this?
- Let’s face it, when someone comes to my office, not many folks come in with a chipper attitude excited about the divorce process. It’s difficult, time consuming, and expensive. It’s emotionally exhausting.
- You have to be mentally brave and ready to file for divorce. The first step is the hardest but it starts within you. I commonly tell people that I can get you divorced but I can’t do it without you and you have to be ready to move on from this relationship or we are going to get nowhere fast.
- Do what you can to get mentally tough, have a support network in place of friends and family. These two assets will become invaluable when going through this process.
Hire an attorney that will put your interests first.
- Most people do not realize the time and effort that it takes to get a divorce finalized. Again, it is a very emotionally based lawsuit. When emotions flare or true legitimate needs pop up, that means you need help from your attorney, which requires time and effort and that equals money. The phone calls, emails, text messages, emergency motions, and court appearances add up.
- Work with an experienced attorney that understands your interests and listen to his or her advice. Talk to your attorney about your needs and wishes and certainly he or she should be able to put a tailored plan together to get you to your goal. If your retainer runs low, then set up a payment arrangement plan with your attorney. Most attorneys will work with you and keep your litigation moving forward.
- Talk to your attorney in advance about common events. Your lawyer will likely speak to you about the mediation process. We will discuss mediation in a separate article. While being a great tool that allows the parties to the divorce resolve their matter without court intervention, it can be costly. Ask your attorney what the typical cost are and begin to budget for events like this in advance.
- Be smart with the process, ask your attorney for detailed billing so that you know where and how your money is being spent. Help with copies, photos, hard drive images, social media post copies, filing documents with the court, etc. This will help you save on costs.
- Unless it is an absolute emergency, save up your questions and email two or three at a time. Those individual emails add up and typically your attorney can answer multiple questions in one email, which is likely more efficient and saves you money.
- The client-lawyer relationship is a team like relationship. Be an active participant. If you are, then your attorney will likely appreciate your help, the cost of the divorce will be less, and your case will conclude faster.
Shouldn’t I get half of everything????
- This concern comes up in every divorce and is a loaded question. Your gut screams yes but sometimes the laws say…. “maybe.”
- In Tennessee, it isn’t black and white what is an “Equitable” distribution of the marital assets. If you are following my last statement then you are likely asking, “What is a marital asset?” Commonly, funds or income earned during the marriage will qualify as marital assets. The stuff you purchased during the marriage (house, cars, dishes, yard equipment… you know, stuff) are considered marital property. Commingled funds or property that you owned prior to the marriage can become marital property. (Ask your attorney to explain commingled funds).
- Tennessee statute also requires a court to consider the length of the marriage when determining how to equitably distribute property in a divorce. This can become a lengthy and complicated legal analysis best done by your attorney.
- The answer to this question is that the court will equitably divide the marital assets, not necessarily deliver half to each party. The reality is that your attorney will likely try to negotiate and ask for as much as possible and live with the maximum that either, the parties can agree to or what the court awards.
What about the kids and child support?
- If there are minor children involved, then you will have to develop a permanent parenting plan and also a child support worksheet. There are many factors that will determine who gets more visitation. None of which can be fully explained in this short effort. Suffice it to say, in Tennessee the legislature has been very clear that our social policy is to allow both parents as much parenting time as can be reasonably calculated and is in the best interest of the child. This does not mean 50/50. For example, sometimes circumstances and work schedules will require a parent to get the children every other weekend, fall and spring break, and a couple weeks in the summer. A best interest of the child analysis should be done in every situation and based on the circumstances, sometimes it isn’t in the children’s best interest to spend as much time with one parent or the other. Each situation is different and will present its own complexities. You will need to work closely with your attorney on this issue.
- Child support in Tennessee is based on the Tennessee child support guidelines and computed via a child support worksheet. In a nutshell, this worksheet takes into consideration the income of both parents, the amount of time the children spend with each parent (this is why the parenting plan is so important), and other factors that will affect the bottom line payment. Once the numbers are inserted into the calculator, it will do the work and determine who pays and how much. It’s math. We can change the variables but if the numbers entered are accurate, then math is math. The bottom line child support obligation will only change if the parties agree to a deviation or if the court requires one.
How long is this going to take?
- Tennessee statute states that a divorce without minor children can be concluded after meeting certain other statutory requirements and sixty (60) days have elapsed from the time of service. When minor children are involved, a divorce cannot be concluded until ninety (90) days have elapsed from the time of service.
- This is the absolute fastest that the law will allow a divorce to conclude. However, once we get a firm understanding of all the variables, we realize that hardly any divorce can or will conclude in that time frame. If you are lucky enough to agree on everything, then it is possible. However, some jurisdictions require a court appearance to finalize an irreconcilable difference divorce and then you are at the mercy of the court’s calendar. This will likely prohibit your divorce from concluding in the time frames previously mentioned.
- The real answer is that your attorney should be doing all that he or she can to march your divorce to a speedy conclusion. If you have hired a good attorney, then she or he will make it their priority to protect you best interests in all facets. Sometimes that means things can go fast or they could take several more months. What’s important is that the lawsuit is concluded properly, it takes into account all items that need to be spoken for, and that nothing is left as an unknown.
We recently had two clients come to our office for consults about post-divorce matters. One consult was a run of the mill, necessary, change in the parenting plan. This is common and can be expected when minor children are involved at the time of the divorce and are young. Life changes, kids grown up, and parenting plans have to change with them. The other was for a gentleman that handled his divorce with his wife by himself or pro se. The marital dissolution agreement failed to speak as to whether or not he was to be granted certain vehicles and other miscellaneous property that was at the marital residence. His wife was awarded the home and “all other possessions in the home not mentioned in the Marital Dissolution Agreement.” Well, his wife is in possession of these items and they were not specifically mentioned in the dissolution agreement. If it can be remedied at all, it is going to be costly and require a lot of effort. This highlights my last recommendation, hire an attorney. You get one bite at this apple. The cost of an attorney for the gentleman above to have this handled properly would be a drop in the bucket compared to the exhausting process he now has to tackle.
The above article is intended to educate general principles and concepts based on Tennessee law and is not intended as legal advice. Please refer any questions or legal needs to a state licensed attorney.
James is one of the founding members at Cobb & Waites. Cobb & Waites law firm is focused on providing successful legal representation and helping others in their community. If you have questions, please feel free to visit the website and contact our office.