Tennessee

Tennessee Marriage Specifications

Hey there, Nashville! Are you looking to get a prenuptial agreement with your honey in Tennessee? Below we have listed the major statutes and phrases you’ll need to understand so ya’ll can get back to planning your wedding.

Tennessee Prenuptial Agreements

 A prenuptial agreement (also often referred to as a “prenup” or “premarital agreement”) is a legally binding contract created between two parties who plan to marry. The document is drafted and signed prior to marriage and details the rights and ownership of separate property while married and in the event of divorce. Before entering into a Tennessee Prenuptial Agreement, it is important that you understand your legal rights under Tennessee state law, and what rights you are waiving by contracting around TN divorce law by way of a prenup. Below, we have included several helpful resources, including summaries of some Prenuptial Agreement case law in Tennessee and links to the cases. Should you need further clarification on your legal rights at any time, it is important that you contact an attorney in Tennessee to advise you. 

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What to include in a valid Tennessee Prenup? 

For a TN prenup to be considered valid, it must be drafted under specific guidelines that include:

  • A written contract
  • Lawful terms
  • Signatures from both parties (HelloPrenup suggest initially each page!). Also, make sure to get your signatures notarized!
  • Signed voluntarily (without being under duress, intimidation, deceit, etc.)
  • Full disclosure of finances! Don’t skimp on this one!
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What to exclude from your Tennessee prenup 

Your prenup could be a risk if you include any of the following provisions:

  • Child custody or child support
  • Excluding the right to counsel
  • Incentive to commit illegal acts
  • Incentive for divorce
  • Unfair, unjust, or deceptive terms
  • Relationship terms (rules for the relationship that are not monetary or involve rights related to property)

 

Terms to understand for a valid Tennessee Prenup

*Ya’ll! We curated something really special. This prenup encyclopedia simplifies each term so ya’ll can get through any legal phrases without any sweat.

Tennessee Prenuptial Agreement Law

In Tennessee, statutory authority to enter into prenuptial agreements is provided by T.C.A. § 36-3-501. The statute requires that the agreement be entered into “freely, knowledgeably and in good faith and without exertion of duress or undue influence upon either spouse.” However, that’s about the extent of the guidance. But, that doesn’t mean that there are no other requirements! The remainder of the requirements for valid prenuptial agreements can be found in the case law published by Tennessee courts. We will explore some of the Tennessee case law more thoroughly below so stay tuned!

Premarital Agreement Cases to Know

Abbie Joseph Howell v. Lauren Elizabeth (Bond) Howell

Moral of the story: Know what you are signing. 

In 2011, Abbie and Lauren, who had been living together for several years as boyfriend and girlfriend, married. Just eleven days before their 2011 wedding, the happy couple signed a prenuptial agreement at the husband’s attorney’s office. At the time, Abbie was 54 years old and worked as a pharmacist, and Abbie was 26 years old and worked as a pharmacy tech and as a substitute teacher.  Lauren knew for several years prior to marriage that Lauren was not willing to get married without a prenuptial agreement.

Seven years later, the no longer happy couple filed for divorce. Lauren asserted that  the prenuptial agreement was invalid, and a trial ensued. Lauren argued that the agreement should be deemed invalid and unenforceable because she had not signed freely and knowledgeably.

Abbie testified that he had told Lauren that he was not willing to get married without a prenuptial agreement, because the house he lived in was purchased with the proceeds of a life insurance policy when his first wife had died, and so he wanted to make sure that the house was left for his children from his first marriage. Lauren, on the other hand, testified that she knew Abbie wanted to get a prenup agreement before getting married, but that the couple had never discussed the terms of the agreement.  Lauren testified that she was not told that she could seek independent legal advice or counsel, and that she trusted the husband. 

The court ruled that the agreement was valid and enforceable.  The court reasoned that since the parties lived together prior to marriage, they were aware of each other’s assets, and that Lauren was aware that Abbie wanted to protect those assets for his children. Lauren appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

The Tennessee appeals court noted that Abbie was older than Lauren and had some more experience in business than she did.  However, the appeals court noted that this did not place him in a more advantageous position, and noted that the wife was very intelligent, evidenced by the fact that she had graduated from high school with honors and was working on a pharmacy degree.

The appeals court reasoned that the terms of the agreement were very straightforward, and therefore business experience was not necessary to comprehend the terms of the prenuptial agreement. 

The court also agreed that there was no evidence of duress during the signing of this agreement and no evidence of deprivation of the wife’s right to advice of independent counsel. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and the prenuptial agreement was upheld.

Spoiler alert- we omitted any legal citations so that you wouldn’t fall asleep. Want to read the details, straight from the source? Check out the case here.

Deborah Jean Walker v. Barry Lyle Walker

Moral of the story: Don’t skimp on disclosing all of your separate property, because it will come back to bite you later!

Five days before their wedding in 1996, Deborah and Barry signed a prenuptial agreement. They were each represented by an attorney, and Deborah’s attorney had drafted the agreement.  Before the happy couple signed on the dotted line, they exchanged a list of their separate property, including the approximate values of that separate property.

A few months after marriage, Deborah was working on the couples’ property taxes, and discovered that Barry owned a condo unit with his former girlfriend.(!!!) According to Deborah, problems with this ex-girlfriend had caused serious stress on the marriage, but Deborah decided not to do anything upon her discovery of the condo. 

Eventually, Deborah filed for divorce in 2007, but the case was suspended and then resumed in 2015 due to Barry’s injuries from a motorcycle accident. What happened to the condo, you ask? Well, at some point during the marriage, it was sold. The case indicates that Deborah participated in this sale. 

But, back to the divorce. During the divorce case, where Barry seeked to uphold the prenuptial agreement, Deborah pointed to Barry’s failure to disclose his interest in the condominium in his financial schedule.  Barry argued that he had simply made a mistake in not disclosing the condo, and that the omission was minor.

After listening to testimony, the court found that Barry hadn’t entered the prenuptial agreement in good faith, and that the ownership of the condo had been deliberately concealed. Barry appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, and the appeals court stated that prenuptial agreements are enforceable only if certain requirements are met. They detailed that, in particular, they must be made with full knowledge and in good faith, and that In this case, the trial court had held that Barry’s nondisclosure of the condo showed his lack of good faith. Ouch!

Spoiler alert- we omitted any legal citations so that you wouldn’t fall asleep. Want to read the details, straight from the source? Check out the case here

Rhonda Sue Griffis Grubb v. James Wesley Grubb

Moral of the story: Great income, age and educational disparities between the parties when the less advantaged spouse does not have legal counsel could lead to questions of enforceability. 

At the time of their 2002 marriage, James was 22 years older than Rhonda.  James had a college degree, while Rhonda only had her GED.  A few days before getting married, James took Rhonda on a romantic trip to his family lawyer’s office to sign a prenuptial agreement. Rhonda later testified that she did not fully understand it. The family law attorney informed her at the time that he was not acting as her attorney and that she should obtain independent legal advice to understand the agreement – but, she never did.

The Tennessee prenup agreement specified which property would remain separate property in the event of a divorce, and also capped James’ future alimony obligation at $100,000.

James and Rhonda went on to have two kids, with Rhonda being the homemaker. Spoiler alert: Rhonda filed for divorce in 2015.

After testimony, the trial court held that the bulk of the agreement was valid, and that the designations of property would be enforced (except for the alimony cap). The decision was appealed. The appeals court’s first order of business was to analyze whether there had been full and fair disclosure prior to signing the agreement, and noted that there had been evidence that the wife had been rushed to sign the agreement.

The appeals court noted that Rhonad had not been represented by a lawyer at the time the agreement was signed – but noted that this issue was of particular note given the disparity in education between Rhonda and James. Rhonda was only 20 at the time of marriage, had only obtained a GED, and was financially dependent on James. For these reasons, the Court of Appeals vacated the lower court’s order and remanded (legal language for send back)  the case back to the trial court.  In doing so, the appeals court instructed the trial court to make sufficient findings and conclusions explaining its reasoning as to the factors it took issue with. 

Check out the entire case here

Division of property in Tennessee

One of the most important reasons to have a prenup is to specify what property you want to have excluded from the marital estate (in other words, property you want to remain yours in the event of divorce). So, it’s really important to understand which property is and is not subject to division upon divorce in Tennessee. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.  

Marital property

In Tennessee, property which is considered a part of the marital estate is officially referred to as marital property. Pursuant to Tennessee statutory law, marital property includes all real and personal property, both tangible and intangible, acquired by either or both spouses during the marriage. This includes 

  • Income; 
  • any increase in the value of separate property which occurs during the marriage and is the result of marital efforts;
  • the value of vested and unvested pensions and retirement accounts relating to employment that accrued during the marriage
  • recovery in personal injury, workers’ compensation, social security disability actions. This is limited to funds awarded for lost wages, medical bills paid with marital funds, and property damage to marital property. 

 Check out the fine print here! 

Separate property

Property that is not a part of the marital estate is referred to as “separate property” (AKA non-marital property in other states). Tennessee defines separate property as real and personal property owned by a spouse before marriage. This includes: 

  • Property acquired in exchange for property acquired before the marriage;
  • Property acquired by a spouse at any time by gift or inheritance; 
  • Income from and appreciation of property owned by a spouse before marriage (unless the appreciation is the result of marital efforts). 

Check out the fine print here! 

Alimony/Spousal Support

Alimony (AKA spousal support or spousal maintenance) is financial support that is provided by one spouse to the other spouse during or after divorce. There are three types of alimony in Tennessee: rehabilitative, periodic, and transitional. 

Rehabilitative alimony is intended to “rehabilitate” an economically disadvantaged spouse in order to allow them to achieve a standard of living that is reasonably comparable to the standard of living during the marriage.

When rehabilitation is not necessary or feasible, but the spouse is still economically disadvantaged in comparison to the other spouse, the court may award transitional alimony which is intended to help the spouse adjust to the economic consequences of divorce. As the name suggests, the duration of transitional alimony is limited. 

Periodic alimony may be awarded where rehabilitation is not feasible. This type of alimony can be long-term or permanent.

Of course, you can contractually waive or limit alimony in your prenuptial agreement. However, a provision limiting a spouse’s right to alimony will not be enforced if it will result in the deprived spouse becoming a public ward (check out the Cary case here!). 

Want to dive a little deeper? Read all of the fine print here and here!

Independent counsel requirement

Different states have varying requirements regarding the need for independent counsel. In Tennessee, it is not an absolute requirement. However, it is a factor that is considered when determining if the agreement was entered into knowledgeably. Not only is it a factor, but the courts have categorized it as the “best assurance” that all the legal requirements have been met and that the agreement will be enforceable in the future. 

In determining whether a spouse knowingly entered into the agreement, in addition to whether the parties had independent counsel, the court will analyze the business acumen of the parties, the duration of the relationship prior to marriage, and the amount of time between signing and the wedding (just to name a few factors). This issue comes up when the validity of the prenup is challenged by one of the spouses. So, while it is not a requirement in Tennessee, having an attorney review and advise you on your potential prenup creates a stronger case for enforcement down the road.

Tennessee Prenup Terminology to Know:

 

Property that is not marital: Separate Property

Property of the marriage: Marital Property

Support: Alimony 

Divorce: Divorce from the bonds of matrimony or just.. “divorce”

 

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