By Jedidiah McKeehan

When I first meet with someone to talk to them about representing them in a divorce case, one of the first questions I always ask is, “Do they know this is coming?”

Often times, the answer is yes.  Which is probably a good thing.  When there is a huge, life-changing event like divorce headed someone’s way, it’s probably better to avoid springing it on them all at once by serving them divorce papers.

However, sometimes individuals hire me to represent them in their divorce case and they have not told their spouse that they plan on filing for divorce.  So, there we sit in my office, and almost always, the person will ask me, “Should I tell them before they receive the paperwork?”

My answer to that question is always the same.  I tell them, “I cannot answer that question for you.  You know them better than I do and you know what is the best way to tell them they are getting divorced.”

Now normally you would think it would be a good idea to give them a warning, but that is not always the case.  People do not always treat their spouses fairly or kindly (probably a factor in the two of them getting divorced).  Because of that, sometimes the other person may not deserve to be given advance notice that they are going to receive divorce paperwork, for example: a husband who has skipped out on a family, a wife who has emptied out the bank accounts and left town, or a husband who beats his wife.

I have also seen someone tell their spouse they are going to file for divorce, and then the spouse they informed runs out, hires their own attorney, and files for divorce first (I should note here, in Tennessee, it makes no difference to the outcome of the case who files for divorce first)!

To bring it back full circle to the original question, it is a great idea to be able to inform your spouse you are filing for divorce, but the situation may dictate that you just file for divorce and they can be informed of the filing when they receive their paperwork from the court.

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.