Divorce Family Law

Grounds for Divorce: Untying the Knot in Tennessee

Written by Francis King

Sadly, about half of all first marriages end in divorce, and the statistics for second marriages are even bleaker.  As Eric Clapton put it, “Why does love have to be so sad?”

Well, I can’t answer that one.  It’s above my pay grade and, fortunately, clients don’t ask me.  What they do ask, however, is this: “I want a divorce.  Do I have grounds?”  That one I can answer. (Aren’t lawyers wonderful?)

In Tennessee, there are two types of divorce.
One can be characterized as “no fault,” and the other as “fault.”  The “no fault” divorce is grounded on “irreconcilable differences, “a catch-all phrase that basically means, as Dave Mason sings, “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy.  There’s only you and me and we just disagree.”  Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, there is a catch though.  The courts can not grant a divorce based on irreconcilable differences unless both parties consent, and sign a legally valid marital dissolution agreement (“MDA”).  This means that if you file for divorce on this ground and your spouse does not want to cooperate, you may be stopped in your tracks unless you can assert one of the “fault-based” grounds for divorce.

O.K., so there is a “bad guy” after all, namely the other spouse.  Here are the potential grounds for proving that:

  1.  Either party, at the time of the marriage, was and still is naturally impotent and incapable of procreation.
  2.  Either party has knowingly entered into a second marriage, in violation of a previous marriage, still subsisting.
  3.  Either party has committed adultery.
  4.  Willful or malicious desertion or absence of either party, without a reasonable cause, for one (1) whole year.
  5.  Being convicted of any crime that, by the laws of the state, renders the party infamous.
  6.  Being convicted of a crime that, by the laws of the state, is declared to be a felony, and sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary.
  7.  Either party has attempted the life of the other, by poison or any other means showing malice.
  8.  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 years.
  9.  The woman was pregnant at the time of the marriage, by another person, without the knowledge of the husband.
  10.  Habitual drunkenness or abuse of narcotic drugs of either party, when the spouse has contracted either such habit after marriage.
  11.  The husband or wife is guilty of such cruel and inhuman treatment or conduct towards the spouse as renders cohabitation unsafe and improper, which may also be referred to in pleadings as inappropriate marital conduct.
  12.  The husband or wife has offered such indignities to the spouse’s person as to render the spouse’s position intolerable, and thereby forced the spouse to withdraw.
  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 or more years which commenced prior to or after April 18, 1985, both parties have lived in separate residences, have not cohabitated as man and wife during such period, and there are no minor children of the parties.

So, if your spouse is, among other things, an adulterer, a drunkard, a drug addict, a convicted felon, a polygamist or just downright no good and rotten, you should be able to pursue your divorce on one of the fault-based grounds… but, remember, the other spouse can also counter-sue for divorce, so be prepared for that possibility.  Or, to quote another old blues tune, also made famous by EC, “Before you ‘cuse me, take a look at yourself!”

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