When a couple gets divorced, everything from a marriage has to be sorted out by the courts. Among the many tasks the court must perform, a universal one is property division, specifically Tennessee property division.
A divorcing couple should not discount the guidance of a licensed Family Law attorney. Property division laws can be complex, vary from state to state and lawyers have the proper training and experience to tell the judge what a divorcing spouse wants or needs from the property division.
Property Division Divorce Laws in Tennessee
The purpose of Tennessee property division laws is to make sure that marital property is allocated to each spouse equitably. Tennessee marital property is divided under the considerations of Tennessee case law but the trial court judge receives great discretion when converting Tennessee marital property into separate Tennessee divorce property.
Tennessee is an equitable distribution state. This means that with regard to Tennessee divorce assets, anything the spouses brought into a marriage usually will not be included in Tennessee divorce assets or Tennessee divorce property. The only property that comes into the court's distribution is that which is legally classified as property of the marriage.
What is considered Marital and Non-Marital Property?
Marital property is defined under Tennessee Code §36-4-121(b)(1) as “all real and personal property, both tangible and intangible, acquired by either or both spouses during the course of the marriage up to the date of the final divorce hearing and owned by either or both spouses as of the date of filing of a complaint for divorce.” Marital property also includes:
- Recovery in personal injury, workers' compensation, social security disability actions, and other similar actions for wages lost during the marriage, reimbursement for medical bills incurred and paid with marital property, and property damage to marital property
- Income from, and any increase in value during the marriage of, property determined to be separate property if each party substantially contributed to its preservation and appreciation
Non-marital property is defined under Tennessee Code §36-4-121(b)(2) and includes:
- All real and personal property owned by a spouse before marriage
- Pain and suffering awards, future medical expenses, etc.
- Property acquired in exchange for property acquired before the marriage
- Property acquired by a spouse after an order of legal separation where the court has made a final disposition of property
Dividing Assets and Debt
After the court decides which property is available for distribution, the next step is property valuation. The final step is the allocation of marital property.
Under Tennessee Code §36-4-121(c), the court considers a number of factors in dividing assets and debt. Some of these are:
- The marriage's length
- The parties' age & health
- Tax consequences
- The parties' economic circumstances
- The value of each parties' separate property
Using statutory factors, judges decide how a marriage's assets should be divided. Here is a list of the most common property items and the most common allocation scheme used.
- Cash: Divided equitably among the
- Example 1: A joint savings account has $5,000. The court would most likely award a portion of the money to each spouse.
- Example 2: A joint savings account has $5,000. One spouse contributed $4,000 and the other contributed $1,000. The amount may be divided in a 50-50 split or may be more balanced if the $1,000 contributor has fewer assets than the $4,000 contributor.
- Retirement Plans: Divided based on the
duration of the marriage at the time the benefits accrued, looking at the
present value of the plan and/or survivor benefits.
- Example 1: A spouse got benefits in a retirement plan after working for 25 years and was married for 20 of those years. The ex-spouse would be entitled to a portion of the retirement plan that was acquired during the marriage.
- Example 2: A spouse has an unvested retirement plan. No division takes place until
- the plan is payable to the spouse who has it but it may be considered marital property.
- Vehicles: Divided based on the values at
the date determined by the court. May be
sold or given to a spouse outright.
- Example 1: A car is owned by a spouse The car may be sold with the proceeds divided between each spouse or the car may be given to a spouse outright.
- Example 2: A motorcycle has a shared title. The motorcycle may be sold with the proceeds going to each spouse or given to a poorer spouse outright.
- Insurance: Determined based upon each
spouse's health, availability of alternate insurance and premium payments from
- Example 1: One spouse has covered the other under employer provided health insurance. The other spouse is in poor health and could not afford alternate health care coverage. The court may order the first spouse to continue covering that spouse for a set time period and/or award money to the ailing spouse to get new coverage.
- Example 2: One spouse has a life insurance policy where the ex-spouse is to get survivor benefits. The spouse may be required to remain on the policy or may receive a portion of the benefits.
Settling Disputes in a Divorce Case with Property and Asset Division
Under Tennessee case law, a final property division order may not be modified by the trial court. However, you could go back to court to get the property division enforced if a spouse is not complying with it.
The trial court's determinations will not be changed by an appeals court unless there is clear evidence of an abuse of discretion. This is very difficult to prove.
Help From a Tennessee Property Divorce Lawyer
Retaining a Tennessee property divorce lawyer is key to getting the most equitable result in the property division phase of a divorce. The lawyer can provide professional guidance, keep you informed of likely outcomes and help you present the best arguments to the trial judge handling the divorce.