By Divorce.com staff
Updated Jan 20, 2023
Perhaps you’re wondering what “legal grounds for divorce” are. These are simply reasons for divorce that are acceptable under the law and may vary by state. When you file a no-fault divorce, you don’t necessarily have to provide a reason for your split at the time of filing.
You can simply cite irreconcilable differences that led to the breakdown of the marriage.
However, some states still recognize fault-based divorces. If you reside in one of those states and wish to prove in court that your partner is to blame for the end of your marriage, you can file using this method. Fault can be difficult to prove, so make sure you’re prepared if you choose to go down this route.
You may need a divorce attorney to represent you to help the process go as smoothly as possible.
Which States Recognize No-Fault Divorces?
Presently, all states recognize no-fault grounds for divorce in their divorce laws. If you live in a no-fault divorce state, you can file for divorce without providing a reason. When it comes to the dissolution of marriage, no-fault divorce is the most common way couples decide to file. Dissolution of marriage is the process by which a marriage is legally terminated.
Marriage dissolution and divorce do not have the same meaning (except in California). However, dissolution is comparable to no-fault divorce. So, when a couple files for dissolution of marriage in court, there’s no need to prove either party was in the wrong.
Can You Still Provide a Reason at Filing?
You don’t have to provide a specific reason for a no-fault divorce. If you decide you want to provide a reason for the breakdown of your marriage, you can file your divorce using the fault-based method (as long as you live in an eligible state).
Handling a No-Fault Divorce in Court
If you decide to handle your divorce in court, you’ll likely need a divorce attorney to represent you. No-fault divorces are typically able to be resolved more quickly than fault-based divorces. This is because neither couple is claiming the other is at fault, so there is no time spent proving wrongdoing.
If children are involved (or one spouse requests alimony), child support, spousal support, and any other relevant matters will be discussed in court and the judge will ultimately issue a ruling they believe is fair. Once a ruling is issued, the divorce is considered final and complete.
Handling a No-Fault Divorce Outside of Court
Perhaps you’d like to try to save some time and money by handling your divorce outside of court. There are a number of alternative dispute resolutions (like mediation) to choose from.
Alternative dispute resolutions are often quicker and less expensive than lengthy trials and don’t always require a divorce lawyer or family law attorney. The divorce process could be even more seamless if the no-fault divorce is uncontested.
An uncontested divorce is one where both spouses are in complete agreement on all terms of their divorce (such as spousal support or child custody). Not all no-fault divorces are uncontested, but many are.
This is because when neither spouse is placing fault on the other for the marriage breakdown, they are typically aligned on all other aspects of the divorce as well.
Should You Hire a Lawyer or Attorney?
If you decide to handle your divorce in court, you’ll likely need a divorce attorney to represent you. If you decide to handle your divorce outside of court using an alternative divorce method, you won’t necessarily need a divorce attorney to represent you.
You might, however, decide to hire a divorce lawyer to lean on for legal advice. If at any point you or your spouse decide your alternative divorce method, such as arbitration or collaborative divorce, isn’t working out, you can each hire your own attorney and take your divorce case to court.
Which States Recognize Fault-Based Divorces?
While all states now recognize no-fault divorce, there are still some that allow fault-based divorces as well. These include:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- The District of Columbia
Providing a Reason for Divorce at Filing
If you file using this method, you’ll need to cite the specific reason your partner was to blame for the breakdown of the marriage. The reason you provide must be one that is acceptable under the law, like adultery, desertion, domestic violence, or a criminal conviction. Legally acceptable reasons may vary based on state laws.
How Do You Prove Fault?
Fault can be tricky to prove on your own, so you may need a divorce attorney to help.
To prove fault, you’ll need evidence that will hold up in court. This could be direct evidence like a testimony from an eyewitness, circumstantial evidence, or a direct admission from the party at fault to aid in your case.
Handling a Fault-Based Divorce in Court
Fault-based divorces are generally more complex than no-fault divorces since there is more to prove. When handling a divorce filed using this method in court, it’s likely you’ll need an attorney to represent you throughout the process and provide legal advice and guidance.
The court proceedings for fault-based divorces are often lengthier due to the complexity of these types of divorce cases.
Legally acceptable grounds for divorce, like adultery and cruelty, aren’t always easy to prove. If the filing party and their attorney are having difficulty gathering admissible evidence to prove the case, the proceedings can drag on.
Plus, court hearings and trials can take even longer if children or property are involved.
Handling a Fault-Based Divorce Outside of Court
You generally can’t formalize a fault divorce outside of court. If you or your spouse decides to file using the fault-based method, you’ll need to go to court so the judge can review the evidence, determine if it is valid proof of wrongdoing, and issue a ruling.
If both you and your spouse believe the other is at fault — and have the evidence to prove it — a court will grant the divorce to the spouse who is least at fault (comparative rectitude). There are often many factors at play in a fault divorce, which can make it difficult to handle outside of a court of law.
Alternative divorce methods work best when divorcing couples don’t have any major disputes and are able to sit down and have a conversation amicably. Not to mention, some alternative dispute resolutions aren’t permitted in every state, like arbitration.
Should You Hire an Attorney?
Due to the complexity of fault-based divorces, you may want to hire a divorce attorney to look out for your best interests and help you prove your case. Since you typically can’t formalize a fault divorce outside of court, legal representation can help make the process more seamless (and potentially less stressful).
Which Filing Method Is Right for You?
The best filing method for your divorce depends on your unique situation. If you feel that your significant other is to blame for the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage, you may decide to file a fault divorce. This could be a solid option if you reside in a state that allows fault-based divorces, and you know you have the evidence to prove your case.
If you and your spouse wish to part ways with no disagreements, you may decide to file using the more common no-fault method. This could be a wise option if a pair doesn’t dispute any part of their divorce and are looking to end their marriage quickly so they can move on with their lives.
The Bottom Line
Divorce grounds are simply the reasons for divorce that are acceptable under the law (may vary by state). When you file a no-fault divorce, you don’t necessarily have to provide a reason at the time of filing. Presently, all states recognize no-fault divorce, and only a few still recognize fault-based divorces.
So, if you reside in one of those states and feel your significant other is to blame for the marriage breakdown, you can file using this method. You’ll likely need an attorney to represent you due to the complexity of these cases.
While a no-fault divorce is often the path of least resistance, a fault-based divorce may help you find the peace of mind you need to move forward into the next chapter of your life.