By Jedidiah McKeehan

Occasionally I will speak with someone who is about to go through a divorce and they will say to me something like, “they say they are going to get me for abandonment.”

My normal response to them is, “I do not care what they said, ‘getting you for abandonment,’ is not really a thing under Tennessee law.”

I am not sure where this idea about abandonment came from, but let us discuss why I give the answer that I do. Under Tennessee law, Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-4-101 lists out all the reasons for which you can get divorced.  The law requires that there be a stated reason, or ground, for which you are getting divorced.  When a divorce is agreed upon the reason stated to the court for the divorce is irreconcilable differences.

When there is not an agreement between the parties, that law also lists thirteen other reasons under which you can ask for a divorce in Tennessee.  Two of the reasons mention abandonment.

So, a person can ask that they be given a divorce if their spouse:

  1. has willfully or maliciously deserted or been absent without a reasonable cause, for one whole year; and
  2. has abandoned them or turned them out of doors for no just cause, and has refused or neglected to provide for them while having the ability to provide for them.

So, if I think about the answer that I give these people, is it technically, right?  Maybe not.  Yes, someone can ask that they be given a divorce on the basis of abandonment.  However, practically, in the entire time I have been practicing law, I have never actually seen someone request a divorce for either of these two reasons.  Never.

Most likely, we are dealing with a situation where someone who makes more money is talking about moving out, and the other person wants to make sure their bills are paid and they can survive once that person moves out, and those are things they are absolutely entitled to pursue, it is just not typically discussed in the form of, “abandonment.”

The law does protect the person in danger of being “abandoned.”  The law requires that once a divorce is filed, that both parties continue to pay the bills they are currently paying and to not shut off any services (utilities, cable, phone) that are currently in place.  Further, the monetarily-disadvantaged spouse is entitled to request alimony, even before the divorce is final, in an amount that will allow them to meet their financial needs.

To come full circle though, yes, the other person can possibly make you continue to pay their ongoing bills, and continue to support them, but they are not likely to, “get you for abandonment.”


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.