What Grounds for Divorce are Allowed in Your State?

Aug 8, 2012 by

The grounds for obtaining a divorce vary from state to state. Some states allow both fault and no fault divorces while others allow only one of the two. Fault divorces require proof that one spouse is at fault; no fault divorces hold neither spouse responsible.

No Fault Divorce

No fault divorce holds that neither spouse is at fault. The spouse seeking divorce need not prove the other spouse committed a wrong. In many states, a no fault divorce is the only option. A spouse can’t object to a no fault divorce. Most often, couples simply state they cannot get along; this may be called “irreconcilable differences,” “incompatibility,” or some other term. Some states require the spouses to live apart for a certain amount of time before granting a no fault divorce.

Fault Divorce

Some states allow couples to choose either a no fault or a fault divorce. The spouse suing for a fault divorce must prove that their spouse committed some wrongdoing. Some people choose a fault divorce so they can split without having to fulfill their state’s separation period for a no fault divorce. And in some states proving fault gives a spouse a greater percentage of assets or more alimony. There are several grounds for a fault divorce; traditional grounds common across most fault states are adultery, cruelty, desertion, prison confinement, and impotence. Individual states may have others, as well.


If one spouse has had sexual intercourse with a third party, most states allow this as grounds for a fault divorce. The spouse suing for divorce must have proof of the adultery, which often requires evidence and testimony from a third party.


States’ definitions of cruelty vary widely, though it generally encompasses actions that harm mental or physical health. Examples include physical attacks, knowing infliction of a sexually transmitted disease, public flaunting of an adulterous relationship, among many others. Prior to no fault divorce, cruelty was the most commonly cited reason for divorce.

Abandonment or Desertion

If one spouse leaves and never comes back, the other spouse may have grounds for divorce based on abandonment or desertion. The required length of time for the spouse to be gone varies, though it’s generally at least one year. Oftentimes one must show that the spouse left for no good reason and didn’t intend to return.

It’s important to note that a spouse can prevent a fault divorce by showing the court he or she was not at fault. There are other defenses, but they’re rarely used due to the expense and the likelihood of the court granting a divorce anyway. Given that grounds for divorce are quite different for fault vs. no fault, spouses should look into their local laws and rules before proceeding.

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