The divorce process largely follows the process of any other civil lawsuit and is governed by the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure (just like a car wreck or breach of contract or other civil suit). The lawsuit is initiated by filing a complaint for divorce. The other side will then be served (hand-delivered) a copy of the complaint for divorce and a summons to answer the case. The party (“party” just means a person on one side of the lawsuit—you could substitute “the person on one side” or “husband or wife” of “a spouse,” and “parties” means the people on both sides) who was served will then have 30 days to file an answer (and counter-complaint if they choose) to the complaint for divorce.
The parties typically then begin the discovery process. Discovery allows each party (i.e. each side) to learn everything that the other side knows, particularly details about the parties’ assets and debts and who will be testifying at trial. There are a variety of means to discover information in a lawsuit, oftentimes including Requests for the Production of Documents (asking for things like bank, stock, and retirement account statements, credit card statements, mortgage documents, phone records, etc), Interrogatories (these are written questions that you have to answer, like “why do you want a divorce,” “why do you claim that your spouse engaged in inappropriate marital conduct,” or “do you think your spouse is a good parent and why or why not,” etc), and Depositions (scheduled time when the other lawyer gets to ask you questions in person and under oath).
After the parties have finished discovery, they are required to go to mediation. Tennessee has a law that requires mediation except in some limited cases. Mediation is when both sides and their lawyers go to the office of a neutral mediator (usually a very experienced divorce attorney who will have a good idea of what the court might do at trial). The mediator will take turns going back and forth to each party with their attorney (typically sitting in different conference rooms) in order to try to settle all of the terms of the case.
If mediation is not successful (i.e. the parties are unable to come to a settlement agreement), then the case will be set for a trial. Divorce trials are in front of judges without juries. Each side has the right to put on proof in the form of calling witnesses and cross-examining the other side’s witnesses, as well as showing the judge documents or other evidence that you believe proves your case. Parties oftentimes have experts testify at their divorce trial—these experts may be psychologists or psychiatrists who have treated the parties or their children, expert accountants who will estimate the value of a business interest, or real estate experts who will give property appraisals.
Once the judge has heard proof, he or she will divide the assets and debt between the parties, possibly order alimony, and decide issues related to the children if the couple has children (visitation/custody, who will pay insurance, daycare, child support, etc).