The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted a set of plain-language forms and instructions for use in uncontested divorces between parties with minor children in an effort to simplify divorce proceedings for parties that fall into that category. The forms will become effective January 1, 2017.
The forms are approved by the Court as universally acceptable and legally sufficient for use in all Tennessee courts pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 52. The forms and instructions were submitted to the Court by the Access to Justice Commission.
The forms arose from the Commission’s responsibility under Supreme Court Rule 50 to develop initiatives and systemic changes to reduce barriers to access to justice and to meet the legal needs of persons whose legal needs may not be met by legal aid programs. Currently there are restrictions on the types of family law cases which may be handled by federally funded legal aid providers.
The forms are designed for spouses who fulfill all of the following requirements:
· Agree on all the aspects of their divorce, including child support
· Have minor children together
· Do not own any real property (land, house, etc.)
· Do not have any retirement accounts
Spouses with an existing order of protection can also use these forms, however, they must meet all requirements. Also, those spouses with an existing order of protection will be provided with additional information on how these forms impact that existing order of protection.
The forms and instructions arose from a report by the Court’s Task Force to Study Self Represented Litigants, which included a recommendation for universal divorce forms for uncontested divorces. The Commission enlisted members of that Task Force to assist in developing the forms. Other volunteers were pulled from the Commission’s Self-Represented Litigants Advisory Committee to work on this project. The Commission solicited feedback from the private bar including the Tennessee Bar Association, court clerks, trial and general sessions judges, legal aid attorneys, and other access to justice stakeholders to create the best possible version of these forms and instructions.
“The Commission deeply appreciates the many hours spent by dedicated volunteers on this project over the past three years,” said Marcy Eason, Chairperson of the Commission. “These forms and instructions are the result of the extraordinary focus and expertise of our community partners.”
This packet of forms complements existing divorce forms and instructions for uncontested divorces when the parties do not have minor children, which the Court adopted in 2011. Numerous reports from judicial staff and other access to justice resources cite family law issues as one of the most prevalent legal matters experienced by low income Tennesseans.
“These forms and instructions will provide a much-needed resource to some of our most vulnerable citizens,” added Justice Cornelia Clark, Supreme Court liaison to the Commission. “They are a way for those who don’t qualify for free legal help to access our court system and better understand the legal process for their divorce.”
The forms and instructions are written in a fifth- to eighth-grade reading level to help a wide range of Tennesseans. They will go into effect on January 1, 2017, and will be available for free on the Administrative Office of the Courts website, TNCourts.gov, and the Court’s access to justice website, TNJusticeForAll.com.
A copy of the Court’s order, which includes samples of the forms, can be seen here.