While the decision to get married may be an emotional one, marriage is also a legal institution. That means that if the marriage does not work out, you must go through a legal process to “undo” the marriage. Most people choose to go through the divorce process when they decide to end a marriage; however, that is not the only legal option available. A Murfreesboro divorce attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explains divorce, annulment, and legal separation in Tennessee to help you better understand your options.
Understanding Divorce in Tennessee
Most people are familiar with the concept of divorce, if not with the specific details. When you petition the court for a divorce, you must allege “grounds” on which the court can grant the divorce. Tennessee is one of several states that offer parties a “no-fault” option as well as giving the Petitioner (party who initiates the divorce proceedings) the option to allege fault on the other party’s part. The no-fault option simply alleges that the parties have “irreconcilable differences” that cause the marriage to be irretrievably broken. Both parties must agree to proceed with a no-fault divorce. Tennessee offers 13 “fault” grounds on which a divorce may also be granted. If fault is alleged as the grounds for a divorce, the party alleging fault must prove those allegations during the course of the proceedings. Regardless of the grounds on which a divorce is granted, once the court grants a divorce, the parties are no longer legally married and are free to remarry if they so choose.
Understanding Annulment in Tennessee
Where a divorce legally ends a valid marriage, annulment seeks to declare the marriage invalid. In other words, an annulment “erases” a marriage from the legal records as if the marriage never happened. There are a limited number of ways in which a marriage may be annulled in Tennessee. You must prove that the marriage was void from its inception or is voidable. A marriage may be void from inception because:
- One spouse was already legally married (bigamy). If one party was already married at the time of this marriage, this marriage is not valid and can be annulled.
- The parties are too closely related by blood (incest). Marriages between siblings, parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, aunt/uncle and nephew/niece, or between first cousins are void marriage and subject to annulment in Tennessee.
- The marriage was legally prohibited. Usually this refers to the marriage of a minor. Tennessee law requires a party to be 16 years old to be married with consent of a parent or guardian or 18 years old to marry without parental consent.
A marriage may also qualify for annulment in Tennessee if the marriage was valid at inception but is now voidable because:
- A party is insane. Defined as “the existence of a mental infirmity that prevented one party from understanding his or her actions at the time of the marriage.”
- A party entered into the marriage under duress. If a party did not enter into the marriage voluntarily and of his/her free will, the marriage may be voidable.
- One party is impotent. If a party is completely unable to have sexual intercourse and the impotence existed at the time the parties were married, the marriage could qualify for annulment.
- Force, fraud, or mistake. This refers to a “material or substantial” deception or outright force used to compel one party to enter into the marriage.
If an annulment is granted, it legally erases the marriage as if it never existed. People often want to pursue an annulment for religious reasons. If your desire for an annulment is rooted in religious doctrine, be sure to check with your church to determine what its annulment requirements are as they are not always the same as the legal requirements for an annulment.
Understanding Legal Separation in Tennessee
A final option when a marriage is not working is to petition for a legal separation. This option is also often rooted in religious beliefs and/or practical considerations. Tennessee law allows for a legal separation which does not cease the legal bonds of matrimony but does allow the parties to physically, practically, and legally separate. Assets and debts can be divided through legal separation and custody and child support can be addressed. For all practical purposes, a legal separation acts the same as a divorce. The primary difference between divorce and legal separation is that the parties cannot remarry if they are legally separated.
Contact a Murfreesboro Divorce Lawyer
If you have questions or concerns about your legal options when a marriage is not working, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro divorce lawyer at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your a free appointment.
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