Every divorce in Tennessee will resolve in one of two ways: through an agreement of the divorcing spouses, or through a final order entered after a trial. A divorce begins in earnest when either spouse files a legal document called a ‘complaint’ with the appropriate court, and serves the opposing spouse with a copy of that document. Generally, the opposing spouse will respond to the complaint with a complaint for divorce of their own. These documents are largely formulaic, and are a precursor to more involved litigation that will follow. It is at this juncture you may be realizing that the legal process is full of jargon that only makes sense to those who deal with it every day, and why you need the best Tennessee divorce attorney to represent you.
While it may seem unbelievable, particularly if you’ve just decided – or just found out – you’ll be going through a divorce, the vast majority of cases are resolved through an agreement by the divorcing spouses as to how their assets should be divided. This can occur at any time in the process, but most commonly happens when the spouses attend ‘mediation’.
In Tennessee, barring extraordinarily uncommon circumstances, spouses will be required to attempt to resolve their divorce through mediation. At mediation, spouses will sit in separate rooms, accompanied by their respective attorneys, and a neutral, specially trained attorney will go back and forth between the rooms with the goal of facilitating an agreed resolution to the divorce. I focus my clients on being extremely well prepared for mediation, as it is usually the point in their case where they can achieve an outcome most in line with their individual goals. Mediation is generally productive, in large part because Tennessee law clearly defines which assets in a divorce are ‘separate’ or ‘marital’ property.
In a divorce, marital property is equitably (fairly) divided between the spouses, while separate property remains with whichever spouse it belongs to. Broadly speaking, marital property is any property – tangible or intangible – acquired by either spouse during the marriage, and separate property is that property which was owned prior to the marriage. It is important to understand that the preceding one-sentence explanation of marital and separate property is just a starting point, and the classification of property in your divorce will be dependent on the particular circumstances of your case. While the classification and division of property can oftentimes conclude in a math problem (“How do we divide the marital property in half?”), the same obviously can’t be said for determining the custody of minor children of the spouses.
Every Tennessee divorce involving the custody of minor children concludes with the establishment of a permanent parenting plan. This is a document which states how many days per year each of the children will spend with each spouse, what the day to day co-parenting schedule will be, how holidays will be divided, and what amount of child support will be paid. Spouses are required to attempt to establish this permanent parenting plan through an agreement at the mediation of the divorce. If mediation is unsuccessful, a judge will decide the residential schedule for the spouses. A judge will consider various factors identified by the Tennessee legislature, and will order the parties to follow a parenting plan which the judge believes to maximize the ability of each parent’s participation in the lives of the children, and which is also in the best interest of the children. Because the idea of being told when you will see your own children is generally an unappealing one, many spouses – even those who begin their divorces completely at odds with one another – are able to put aside their differences to work out a parenting plan at mediation.