DIVORCE & FAMILY LAW
Experienced White, Overton, Cumberland, and Putnam County Divorce, Child Custody and Visitation, and Child Support Attorneys
No one goes into a marriage planning to get divorced. We all want – and expect – the “happily ever after” fairytale. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out like that. If your marriage is on shaky ground and you need to talk to a knowledgeable Sparta divorce attorney about your legal rights, Griffin Law Group, PLLC is here to help. We have offices in Sparta, McMinnville, and Hartsville, from which we serve clients all over the Upper Cumberland and Middle Tennessee.
Our knowledgeable team of White County family lawyers handle many different types of domestic relations cases, including contested divorces, uncontested divorces, child support cases, permanent parenting plan modifications, and child custody disputes. We understand that the process of ending a marriage can be as simple as an agreed divorce based on irreconcilable differences or as complicated as a full-blown trial and maybe even an appeal in a contested, fault-based divorce involving substantial property and/or a contentious child custody dispute.
Unlike some neighboring “no fault” divorce states, Tennessee still has a number of grounds for at-fault divorce, including: adultery; bigamy; impotence; desertion; conviction of an infamous crime and/or felony that results in confinement in the penitentiary; attempted murder of the other spouse; pregnancy by another man at the time of marriage without the spouse’s knowledge; habitual drunkenness or use of narcotics, if such began after the marriage; cruel and inhuman treatment such as cohabitation is rendered unsafe and improper (also known as “inappropriate marital conduct”); and/or abandonment.
Regardless of whether a divorce is contested or uncontested, a final decree cannot be entered until the complaint or petition has been on file at the courthouse for at least 60 days, if there are no minor children, or at least 90 days, if there are minor children. Therefore, in an uncontested divorce involving no children and little or no property, a divorce decree could be entered in as little as two months after filing, if the parties are in agreement. A contested divorce, on the other hand, could take months or even years to fully resolve.
Tennessee is not a community property state. Rather, the trial court judge in a litigated divorce case is to make an equitable distribution. Please note that “equitable” does not always mean “equal.” There are several factors that the judge will typically consider in dividing the personal property, real estate, investments, retirement funds, etc. These include the length of the marriage; the ages of the spouses; the health of both the husband and the wife; and each spouse’s ability to earn income. The contributions of a full-time homemaker spouse or stay-at-home parent are also to be considered, even if that spouse has not worked or contributed monetarily during the marriage. Valuation of assets can be a tedious task, especially if a business or professional practice must be divided during the marital dissolution.
Tennessee courts also recognize that not every asset is a “marital asset.” Property that was brought into a marriage (for example, when one spouse owned a home prior to the marriage) and property that is inherited or gifted to one spouse only may arguably be nonmarital property that is not subject to division in a divorce. However, such property may have been “comingled,” such that it has transmutated into marital property. Transmutation occurs when property that was originally separate, non-marital property becomes subject to equitable division because it has been converted into marital property by the actions of the spouse who originally owned it. This could arguably happen when a spouse is gifted a down payment on a house that is then put into both the husband and wife’s name, with both being obligated on the mortgage. As time goes by (the original house may be sold and the proceeds used towards a different house), the original gift of the down payment becomes more and more difficult to claim as a separate, nonmarital asset.
Alimony, also known as spousal maintenance or spousal support, is not as common as it once was, but it can still be a factor in some divorces, especially in those involving situations in which a couple has been married for a long time and one substantially out-earns the other. In a case involving a request for alimony (whether it is transitional alimony (temporary alimony), rehabilitative alimony, alimony in futuro, or alimony in solido), the issues that must be determined by the Court include the duration of marriage, whether the obligee spouse (the party asserting a need for alimony) is truly unable to support himself or herself financially without help from the other party, and whether the obligor spouse has the economic ability to support the obligee spouse.
In addition to the division of property and debts and the determination of alimony, there are several other issues that may need to be litigated, including establishing an appropriate child custody agreement, parenting plan, visitation arrangements, and child support. There are many factors that go into determining child custody, including, but not limited to, the strength of each parent’s relationship with the child(ren); each parent’s past and future potential performance of parenting responsibilities; each parent's ability to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and education; the emotional ties between each parent and the child; the child(ren)’s emotional and developmental needs; the moral, physical, mental, and emotional fitness of each parent as it relates to his or her ability to parent; the child(ren)’s interaction with siblings and other relatives; continuity, which may involve the length of time that the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment; evidence of physical or emotional abuse; the character and behavior of others who reside or frequent each parent’s home; the parents’ respective employment schedules; and the reasonable preference of the child(ren), especially if the child is 12 years old or older (judges have discretion as to whether to consider the preference of younger children).
Unlike property division, which is usually permanent once the final order is entered, matters concerning children may be modified until such time as the child(ren) reach the age of 18 or graduate from high school (whichever comes last). Of course, the burden is on the party asking for a change to prove that there has been a material change of circumstances, such that the previous child custody arrangements, visitation schedule, or permanent parenting plan are no longer in the best interest of the minor child(ren). With regard to a change in child support, generally speaking, the amount must differ by at least 15% in order for there to be a modification.
Whether you are considering filing for divorce, have recently been served with a petition for marital dissolution, or needing to know more about whether a modification of a previous child custody, parenting plan, visitation schedule, or child support order is possible, our helpful White and Putnam County divorce attorneys are here to help. To set up an appointment to discuss your situation, call Griffin Law Group, PLLC at 931-837-2050.