Divorce Procedure Filing for Divorce in Fault and No-Fault States

There is always be a reason or "grounds" to file for divorce regardless of whether you are filing in a "no-fault" state. The distinction is that a spouse who files for divorce in a no-fault state does not have to prove who is at fault for the marriage ending. This article will further explain the grounds for filing for divorce in both fault and no-fault states.

Fault and No-Fault Divorce Filing Options

State law for fault and no-fault divorce options vary. In all states, the person filing for divorce (the "petitioner") must state a reason for requesting that the court should dissolve the marriage. At present, every U.S. state has a no-fault divorce option. In a no-fault divorce filing, the petitioner can allege that the marriage has simply broken down and that the parties can't work out their problems. The petitioner is not required to prove the truth of the allegations, only state that they exist.

If a petitioner files for divorce on a fault basis, one of the recognized grounds for divorce is required to be alleged. The grounds for divorce vary between states but virtually all include reasons such as desertion, adultery and imprisonment. The petitioner will also need to prove in court that the spouse was to blame for the marriage ending.

No-Fault Grounds for Divorce

The reason or grounds for a no-fault divorce are worded somewhat differently between states although there they can be described by two broad categories:
  • General failure of the marriage;
  • Separation of the spouses for a significant period of time.
When a marriage fails because the relationship between the spouses has broken down, it is usually possible to get a no-fault divorce in most states. The terminology commonly used to describe this fractured relationship is similar and includes:
  • Incompatibility
  • Irreversible failure of the marriage
  • Insupportability
  • Irreconcilable differences
Some states will not accept a bare statement that the marriage has broken down and the court may require that the couple separate for a period of time before a no-fault divorce decree will be granted. The separation period varies and is dependent upon state law.

Fault Based Grounds for a Divorce

Most states permit divorce to be filed based upon the fault of a spouse. The traditional grounds for divorce require that the spouse claiming fault has to prove that the marriage ended due to the wrongful actions of the other spouse. The most common grounds in a fault-based divorce are:
  • Desertion
  • Bigamy
  • Adultery
  • Incompetence or Mental illness
  • Abuse or cruelty
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Impotence
  • Criminal conviction (with or without a jail sentence)

Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer?

While it is optimal to have the benefit of professional experience and training, it is not always practical or available, such as a result of financial limitations. In the case of clear, simple no-fault divorce filings where there is no question about financial matters or child custody, it is possible for a person to handle a no-fault divorce by themselves. When a divorce is complicated and concerns issues such as division of property, alimony, child custody and child support payments, it is extremely challenging for a person to manage the proceedings without the help of an experienced divorce lawyer.
Divorce & Family Law
Divorce Procedure
About author
Michael Wechsler
Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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Michael Wechsler
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