Disagreements are common in divorce, which is not hard to imagine as couples can have a hard time settling their marital differences. When faced with this situation, couples have two options: hire a divorce mediator or go before the court. A contested divorce can prolong a divorce proceeding, so it is best to prepare beforehand to know what you are getting into.
Here at Conner & Roberts, PLLC we have compiled a list of steps to help you navigate your contested divorce.
Step One: Ensure You Meet Your State’s Residency Requirements
Tennessee law requires that the plaintiff (the spouse filing for divorce) or the defendant (the spouse who is served divorce papers) has lived in the state for at least 6 months before filing for divorce.
Step Two: Consult with an Experienced Attorney
Hiring a lawyer is a crucial step in helping you and your spouse reach an agreement. It is also important on an individual level as a contested divorce can take an emotional toll on all parties involved. Therefore, you will want the support of a devoted advocate willing to fight to protect your best interests. An attorney can also consult with you before divorce negotiations begin to understand what matters most to you and negotiate your contested divorce with those issues in mind. Additionally, if you cannot resolve issues through mediation, you will have to go to trial. Only an experienced attorney should represent you in court.
Step Three: Prepare for Your Initial Meeting with Your Lawyer
To ensure you are prepared for this meeting, it is helpful to create a document with the following information:
- A list of all your assets
This does not seem like a difficult task, but many spouses have no idea what they own or how much their assets are actually worth. If you do not handle the family finances, then you will need to figure out where to get access to financial records and information.
- A list of all your debts
Run your personal credit report to get a bigger picture of what kinds of debt you owe. You can get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. To get started, go to annualcreditreport.com, the only authorized website for free credit reports, or call 1-877-322-8228. If your attorney has access to this information early on, he/she is better informed and thus able to protect you better throughout the divorce process.
- Tax returns and pay stubs
If your spouse will not provide you with this information, you can go online and request a copy of your tax transcripts via the IRS. You lawyer will not be able to provide you with advice regarding child support and spousal support without this information.
Step Four: Determine the Grounds for Your Divorce
Your divorce petition is the actual first step to kick off the divorce process. This petition will contain information about both spouses as well as the grounds for divorce. In the state of Tennessee there are various grounds for divorce, including two of which do not require proof of fault or marital misconduct.
The grounds for divorce in the state of Tennessee are:
- Alcoholism or drug abuse
- Felony conviction
- Impotency and sterility
- Abandonment or neglecting to provide for your spouse
- Inappropriate marital conduct
- Desertion for a year without reason
- Malicious attempt
- Refusal to move to Tennessee with your spouse and living apart for 2 years
- Living apart for 2 years with no minor children
- Pregnancy of the wife by another man before the marriage without the husband’s knowledge
- Lack of reconciliation for 2 years after the entry of a decree of separate maintenance
In a divorce case, fault must be proven unless the ground for divorce is irreconcilable differences. Tennessee courts require evidence to prove a fault divorce.
Step Five: Know Which Forms You Need to Fill Out
The forms needed to file for a divorce in Tennessee are: Complaint for Divorce, Certificate of Divorce, and Summons. Make sure to have at least two copies of your forms. The court will need a copy, your spouse will want one, and you will also want one for your own personal records.
Step Six: Consider Your Child(ren)
To be proactive, consider possible child custody arrangements. Think about what would make the most sense for you and your child. Do you want to share joint legal custody with your spouse? What factors should you consider while creating a parenting plan? Are there certain dates or holidays that are important to you and your child(ren)? Have you thought about the child(ren)’s upbringing, including education, religious influence, healthcare, extracurricular activities, etc.? Do you know how much child support would be enough to cover your child’s needs?
Step Seven: Determine Your Priorities
You will need to negotiate during a contested divorce if you decide to go the mediation route. Determine which assets are the most important to you beforehand. You can hire professionals to help you with a business or home valuation.
Consult with Our Experienced Attorneys
A lawyer is a key component in helping you prepare for a contested divorce. As this type of divorce can be more complicated than an uncontested divorce, it would behoove you to seek the legal counsel of an experienced lawyer who is dedicated to protecting your interests. Divorce is stressful but hiring a lawyer should not be. Our Chattanooga family law advocates are here to help you through this transition with compassionate counsel.