Getting a divorce in Memphis

Shelby County provides ‘Divorce Referee’


Please see “Divorce in Tennessee,” for general comments about domestic violence and the need to at least consider counseling when going through the painful process of divorce.

Can’t afford legal representation?

According to this Shelby County Web page,  “The following organizations are available for litigants who cannot afford legal representation:

For additional information about pro se litigant providers, you can e-mail the Shelby County divorce referee or call at (901) 545-4036.

Other online resources

Shelby County also provides various forms online:

  • Circuit Court

  • Divorce referee’s office established in 1973

    An unusual feature of Shelby County and Tennessee state law is the provision of the office of the Divorce Referee, explained on its Web page as having been “created in 1973 to replace the Divorce Proctor’s Office, which was established in 1915. This office reviews and monitors all divorce complaints filed in Shelby County to assure compliance with local and state laws. The divorce referee:

    • Attends divorce trials
    • Conducts hearings to set temporary (pendente lite) child support, alimony, and attorney fees
    • Enters an appearance in every divorce case

    “With the help of eight part-time referees, the divorce referee proctors approximately 3,200 divorces and conducts more than 2,000 temporary support hearings annually. Divorce referees are prohibited, however, from representing and/or giving legal advice to either party in a divorce action. “

    In Tennessee, some grounds must be asserted

    Although we generally say that, since the relatively recent adoption of no-fault provisions in New York state, all states have embraced no-fault divorce to some degree or another. However, the Memphis Bar Association reminds us that Tennessee is technically not a no-fault state, as some grounds must affirmed by the Petitioner:

    In Tennessee, a party must prove grounds for divorce or legal separation. These grounds for divorce are listed in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-101. The most common grounds in a complaint for divorce are “irreconcilable differences” and “inappropriate marital conduct.” “Irreconcilable differences” is similar to a ‘no-fault’ divorce, although Tennessee is not a ‘no-fault’ divorce state. The parties must reach an agreement to be divorced on grounds of “irreconcilable differences.” According to T.C.A. 36-4-101 ‘inappropriate marital conduct’ is defined as “cruel and inhuman treatment or conduct towards the spouse as renders cohabitation unsafe and improper.” Many divorces are granted on these grounds. Some parties obtain a legal separation but there has to be a possibility of reconciliation. You will need to consult with an attorney to determine which avenue is appropriate for your case.

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