Recently on our divorce forum a user asked, “I know society does not view divorce quite the same way it did forty or fifty years ago, but I am wondering if legally I have to have a reason for divorce?”
Grounds for divorce
State laws vary somewhat so the information provided below will be general in nature. Although all couples need a ground for divorce, the courts generally differentiate the grounds into what they term “fault grounds” and “no fault grounds.”
What is no fault divorce?
No fault divorce, the notion that a couple did not need to charge their spouse for wrongdoing to obtain a divorce, was legalized in California in 1970 by Ronald Reagan. Reagan, however, later admitted that signing the no fault divorce bill was one of his worst mistakes he made in office, ushering in a 250% increase in the divorce rate from 1960 to 1980.
What is fault divorce?
Prior to 1970, the notion of “irreconcilable differences” or a marriage which was “irretrievably broken” was not sufficient grounds for divorce. In fact, prior to changes in the law for each state couples had to provide evidence that their spouse did something or was “at fault” for the dissolution of the marriage. Although not all states currently recognize each of these fault grounds, the most common fault grounds can include:
- Cruel and abusive treatment
Cruel and abusive treatment is a common divorce ground used by spouses who have been physically or mentally abused by their spouse.
- Desertion or abandonment
Spouses can claim desertion if their spouse has left, does not plan to return, they left on their own free will without cause, and they have been gone at least one year. In some cases, desertion can also occur even if the spouse is physically still present in the home.
- Failure to provide suitable support
To use this grounds a spouse must prove the failure to provide support is gross or wanton and has caused physical harm or danger for the unsupported spouse.
Another grounds for divorce is adultery, which requires a spouse to provide evidence that their spouse has had sexual relations with another person.
- Habit of intoxication
Spouses may also file for divorce on the grounds of habitual intoxication, which means the spouse uses an excessive amount of drugs and alcohol.
Although this grounds is generally not used, if one spouse can prove that the other spouse is incapable of sexual relations it can be a legal grounds for divorce.
- Confinement in a Penal Institution
Spouses who are married to another person who has been sentenced to five years or more in prison may have the legal right to divorce their spouse under this ground.
As you might imagine, it’s much simpler for couples to divorce by claiming an irretrievable breakdown of their marriage. To file divorce using this grounds they generally just have to sign a statement or affidavit that their marriage is irretrievably broken down and complete a few other steps to finalize the divorce.
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