Before the second half of the 20th century, if you wanted a divorce, you had to prove the “faults” of your partner that made you want to end the marriage. For example, wrongdoings or crimes, such as adultery or domestic abuse, were frequently cited as reasons for dissolution.
Today, although every state in the United States provides some type of no-fault divorce, 18 states are considered full no-fault states, in which no-fault is the default, and placing blame on one of the spouses is very difficult. In this article, we'll go over all there is to know about no-fault divorce, so you can decide if it's right for you.
What Is a No-Fault Divorce?
“No-fault” is a type of divorce in which neither party is required to justify why they wish to leave their spouse. California was the first state to adopt no-fault divorces with the Family Law Act of 1969.
A no-fault divorce can be declared on the following grounds:
- irreconcilable differences
- irreparable breakdown of the marriage
The spouse who receives the divorce petition cannot object to the other party's no-fault divorce petition, as the court may regard that objection as an irreconcilable difference.
The Pros and Cons of a No-Fault Divorce
Typically, no-fault states require couples to be separated and live apart for a set amount of time before either side can file for divorce. Filing under the grounds of irreconcilable differences might help make the divorce process less unpleasant in the long term, especially if the former spouses are planning to co-parent. Let’s go over some of the main benefits of no-fault divorces:
- Creates a more amicable atmosphere - The manner in which a divorce is initiated sets the tone for the remainder of the divorce proceedings. Beginning the divorce process by blaming the other party can produce a hostile climate.
- Reduces legal fees - While no-fault divorce laws do not eliminate the possibility of going before a judge, they do eliminate the requirement to prove the other party is at fault.
- Less stressful for children - Even in the best conditions, divorce is often traumatic for children. Hearing that one parent damaged the marriage raises the likelihood of children taking sides.
- Focus on needs, rather than wrongdoings - Blaming one side for the breakdown of a marriage will not change the past or make things better. Your time and money would be better spent focusing on relevant matters, such as custody issues, alimony, and asset division.
- No fabricated evidence - In states with no-fault divorce, neither spouse needs to worry about defending themselves against falsified evidence if there are no charges of wrongdoing. You might be amazed at how many married spouses lie or fabricate evidence regarding a spouse to win a divorce.
- Alimony and child support are unaffected - Spousal support, also known as alimony, as well as support for any children the couple may have together, remains a possibility for both sides in the divorce.
Although no-fault divorce can make the divorce process easier, there are a few drawbacks:
- Most no-fault divorces are unilateral, which means that only one spouse must believe the marriage is unsalvageable, thereby overriding the other's potential wish to save the marriage. Unilateral divorce is another term used in these cases.
- If you choose the no-fault route, you won’t get the chance to state some facts in court that could potentially affect child custody and support. This also leaves some spouses who have been mistreated by their partner without a sense of justice or closure.
For most people, the benefits of no-fault divorces outweigh the possible negatives, but it all depends on your relationship with your soon-to-be ex-spouse and the terms of your divorce.
What Is a Fault Divorce?
In a fault divorce, either party may claim that the other caused marriage failure. Fault grounds vary by state, but some of the most cited “matrimonial offenses” for divorce are as follows:
- Physical and/or emotional abuse (cruelty)
- Substance abuse
- Incurable insanity
- Physical inability to have sexual relations (if this condition existed before the marriage and was concealed)
Some people do not wish to go through the separation period prescribed by their state's laws for a no-fault divorce, as fault-based divorce can be convenient for various reasons. However, for many, the decision is motivated by injured feelings.
Although fault divorces are less common, the majority of US states still allow parties to provide faults as the basis for divorce. Whatever the reason may be, fault divorces are typically more expensive, since many couples prefer to hire a lawyer to assist them in presenting their case in court.
Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce
A significant distinction between fault and no-fault divorce is that parties filing for a fault divorce are often not obligated to live apart for a set period before filing. Also, a spouse can object to a fault divorce by providing a defense to disprove the fault elements, unlike with no-fault divorces. In some places, a spouse who proves the other's culpability may be awarded higher alimony or a more significant part of marital property.
It’s recommended to file for divorce in your home state. The court that issues the divorce decision has jurisdiction over all subsequent amendments to court orders. Most states have residency requirements that govern who can petition for divorce in that state.
How to Get a No-Fault Divorce
To apply for divorce in a state, at least one of the spouses must have lived there for six months to a year. In some states, there is no time limit. To file in one of those states, you must be a resident of that state when you file for divorce.
If, after consulting with your divorce lawyer, you determine that no-fault divorce is the best option for you and your family, you’ll need to go through the following steps:
- Check your state’s requirements and file the petition - To file for a no-fault divorce, you must have lived in that state for at least six months up to a year, depending on the state. You should complete the proper paperwork, including the Dissolution of Marriage form and several others (in case you have children). Your lawyer should make sure you’ve filled out and filed everything correctly.
- Serve your spouse as you await a response - Following that, you should give your spouse a copy of all the documents and file a proof of service with the court. This is where legal counsel comes in handy, because you won’t be able to proceed if it’s not done correctly.
- Negotiate a no-fault divorce settlement - At this stage, both parties negotiate the details of the divorce and come to an agreement on how marital assets will be divided, who will be granted custody of the children, whether and how much alimony is required, and other relevant questions. Couples can resolve their issues alone, through mediation, or with the help of attorneys.
Divorce negotiations are more likely to go well if no one is actually at fault. If both members of a couple recognize divorce is unavoidable and are eager to go on with their lives, they can assist the process and avoid time-consuming and costly legal procedures.
It’s not uncommon for couples’ no-fault divorce negotiations and agreements to fail, despite their best efforts. If that happens, they must seek aid from family law and divorce attorneys and participate in a divorce trial. Finally, a divorce settlement agreement is reached through litigation or mediation.
Realizing your marriage isn't working out is painful enough, let alone going through the divorce process. A no-fault divorce is supposed to make the whole procedure easier, but there's no denying it's still difficult, as some cases are more complicated than others.
Whether you believe no-fault divorce is still one-sided, or that it’s the best way to separate, it exists in every state, and is the only available option in some states. Your best way to proceed might be to consult an experienced divorce lawyer who can evaluate your state’s no-fault divorce law and help you through the process.