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What Are Grounds for Divorce?

Grounds for divorce vary by state. Legally, you can file for a fault or no-fault divorce. 

It wasn't so long ago that marriage was, for all practical purposes, binding. Divorce today, while more common and fair, still isn’t a smooth experience. It can be emotionally and financially damaging, but the choice is there.

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 became 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.

What is no-fault divorce? 

When filing for divorce, you have the option of a fault or no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce is a more common process because it is less expensive and easier to obtain. In this case, you still need to file for divorce based on legal grounds, which are commonly referred to by the following:

  • Irreconcilable differences
  • Incompatibility
  • Irretrievable breakdown

This is simply the legal way of declaring that you and your spouse have serious differences, no one is at fault, but you still want a divorce. Many states do require a period of separation before they will finalize your divorce request. This allows both parties to reflect on their decision separately to make sure they are certain they want to begin the divorce process.


Fault Divorce

A fault divorce occurs when one spouse legally declares that someone is at-fault. Reasons vary by state, but common grounds for fault divorces include:

  • Adultery or cheating
  • Bigamy
  • Desertion
  • Mental incapacity at time of marriage
  • Marriage between close relatives
  • Impotence at time of marriage
  • Force or fraud in obtaining the marriage
  • Criminal conviction and/or imprisonment
  • Mental or physical abuse
  • Drug or alcohol addiction
  • Mental illness
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. A fault divorce is often pursued if one parent wants sole custody of the children or wants to claim additional financial benefits from the separation (I.e., a larger split of the marital assets or higher alimony payments).

Considering Divorce

If you are thinking about asking your spouse for a divorce, it's essential to have support from friends, family, or a therapist with expertise in this area. Take time to seriously consider how this decision will impact your life in both the short and long-term, from living arrangements, to financial ramifications, to child custody considerations.

If you and your spouse share children and you’re planning to enter into a co-parenting relationship after divorce, TalkingParents offers tools that can help. Our service provides everything you need to facilitate easy, secure, and accountable communication with your former spouse. We also offer a number of parenting resources to help you and your children through the divorce process, such as this article on How to Tell Your Children About Divorce.

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