Does it matter who files divorce first?

Occasionally, I’ll get the question of "Does it matter who files divorce first?" The quick answer is that it can create a few advantages to file first, however, in the long run it really doesn’t matter. I’ll explain starting with some potential advantages of filing first.

  • Filing first means you get to do some planning on the front end such as researching and finding the right lawyer for you. Once the other spouse is served with the Complaint, they will have 30 days to respond in Tennessee. This can be a lot of stress and anxiety that you won’t have to go through by first planning and filing.
  • The person filing first becomes the “Petitioner” or the “Plaintiff” and is then responsible for drawing up the initial Complaint which sets out the allegations and puts the other party in “defense mode” by having to respond.
  • One big advantage is if there is more than one potential jurisdiction for your divorce, you get to choose when filing first. It will place the burden on the other party to move jurisdiction.
  • By initiating first, you have the opportunity to start protecting marital assets.
  • In a trial situation, the person who files first gets to have the first word and usually the last. This means that they can set the stage and create some momentum in their favor. They get to define the issues and can characterize the behavior of the other party.
  • If there is a concern that the other party may take children far away from you or sell marital assets, it is much harder for them to do so once a divorce is filed. Once a divorce is filed in Tennessee, there is an automatic restraining order from these things. It is there to keep things as stable as possible until the divorce can be finalized.
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One disadvantage is in the initial filing fee:

The person filing must pay the initial filing fee for the divorce. In Tennessee, the initial divorce filing fees are usually much higher than a responding counter complaint. The filing fee differs from County to County in Tennessee ranging from around $200 to around over $300 depending on the county.


The divorce process goes on normally, no matter who files first. Both parties remain on equal terms in the legal system, and no one suffers any loses whatsoever.

If you or anyone you know have questions on these topics, please contact Will Cartwright, family law attorney in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.