Normally, a divorce in Tennessee occurs when one or both parties decide to end the marriage and file appropriate papers. Occasionally, however, a divorce is presumed after a spouse disappears.
If the spouse is missing with no evidence that he or she is still alive being shown, a marriage entered into by the other party more than five years after the disappearance is presumed to be valid. This presumption can be rebutted by a showing that the other party is still alive, but there is no requirement that the abandoned or widowed party perform a full investigation. Courts in Tennessee are historically lenient with spouses left alone for more than five years, and are quick to establish a divorce when appropriate – especially if there are children who will be affected by the decision.
If there is a well-founded rumor that the missing party has died, Tennessee courts will presume that death and recognize a new marriage without the necessity of a divorce after two years have elapsed. The statute that allows this, called an “Enoch Arden” statute, is often seen applied in situation like the World Trade Center bombing on 9/11 or after a natural disaster – situations where it is likely that the specific person died, but no identifiable remains were recovered.
If the party presumed dead returns after his or her spouse has remarried, the spouse formerly presumed dead has the option of renewing the former marriage or dissolving it. If the marriage is renewed, the subsequent marriage is voided as a bigamous marriage.
Statutes like the ones mentioned above exist to save the expense and stress of divorce from a party missing and presumed dead. Obviously, a missing spouse is an emotional situation; unfortunately, it can also come bundled with complex legal issues. If you are involved in a divorce case, presumed or not, you should have an attorney to represent your interest. For more information on divorce or other family law issues, click here.