What Are Grounds for Divorce?

Today we take for granted that we can get a divorce from marriage if we want one. It wasn't so long ago that marriage was, for all practical purposes, binding.

One of the first laws on the books that made divorce more accessible to ordinary people appears to be from England, the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act. Under this law, individuals could divorce their spouses, but only if they could provide a just reason or ‘grounds' for a divorce. For a husband, this meant proving his wife had committed adultery. For a wife, this meant not only showing her husband committed adultery, but also that he had committed some other type of egregious act. Unfortunately, as the Smithsonian wrote in its history of divorce, “women learned that brutality, rape, desertion and financial chicanery did not count."

Reasons for Divorce 

In the United States, divorce is handled at the state level. Up until a few decades ago, either spouse seeking divorce had to show a reason or have grounds for requesting a divorce, such as abandonment, cruelty, mental illness or adultery. It wasn't until 1969 that California because the first state to pass a no-fault divorce law, meaning there's no wrongdoing by either party, the marriage just didn't work. Today, all 50 states recognize a no-fault divorce.

When filing for divorce, you have the option of a fault or no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce is generally preferred because it is much less expensive and easier to obtain. Reasons for a divorce in this case usually come down to irreconcilable differences, incompatibility or the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. Many states do require a period of separation before they will finalize your divorce request. The reason for this is in hopes that spouses may be able to overcome their differences during this period of trial separation and repair their marriage.

A fault divorce is just that, it is occurring because of someone's fault. Possible grounds for divorce could be adultery, homosexuality (for heterosexual married couples), cruelty, mental illness, impotence or infertility. Again, it varies by state. If you are filing for a fault divorce, you must be able to prove this behavior occurred in a court of law. It's a much longer and more expensive process, and yes, one that could be publicly embarrassing to both spouses as well as cause issues for any children involved, and for these reasons it is not as common. A fault divorce may be desired, however, if one parent wants sole custody of the children or they want to claim additional financial benefits from the separation, such as a larger split of the marital assets or higher alimony payments.

Divorce today, while more common and much fairer, still is not a smooth experience. It can be emotionally and financially damaging.

If you are thinking about asking your spouse for a divorce, it's essential to have support from friends, family, or a counselor or therapist with experience in this area. Make sure you do your due diligence into how this decision will impact your life in both the short and long-term, from living arrangements to financial ramifications to child custody considerations. Consider speaking with an experienced, local divorce lawyer who knows the laws in your area.