The divorce process starts with the filing of a complaint (sometimes called a petition for divorce). The divorce complaint will identify the parties, state grounds for divorce, and request the court to grant a divorce. Under Tennessee law certain statistical information must be included in the complaint. This information includes: the full names of the parties, social security numbers, date of separation, information about any children, where the parties are employed, and the number of previous marriages.
The complaint must be filed with a summons. The summons is served with a copy of the complaint on the defendant spouse. The summons informs the defendant that they have 30 days to file an answer to the complaint. It also informs the defendant who the plaintiff’s lawyer is so that they may serve a copy of the answer on the attorney.
The next step in the divorce process is the answer (or response). The answer allows the defendant to admit or deny allegations that are made in the divorce complaint. If an answer is filed, the divorce will proceed to the next step.
The third step of the process is usually discovery or settlement negotiations. If the parties decide to try and settle the divorce without trial there are several options. The attorneys for the parties can meet and discuss settlement or one of the parties can request mediation. Generally divorces that settle are far less costly than those that go to trial. If the parties do not initiate settlement negotiations, then the process of discovery begins.
After discovery, if no settlement has been reached the case will go to trial. At trial both sides will present evidence to help the judge make decisions. The judge must decide (1) If a divorce will be granted (2) How will the property and debt be divided (3) Will alimony be awarded and if so how much and what kind (4) If there are children, who will receive custody, child support, visitation, etc.