Grounds for filing for divorce

If a marriage has broken down and one or both spouses are consulting with a family law attorney in preparation for a divorce, grounds for the divorce will be one of the first topics discussed.

History of Divorce

Many American states enacted divorce legislation in the late 1700s. Of course, it was a requirement to find fault for a divorce to be granted. Connecticut granted a divorce for “…adultery, fraudulent contract, desertion for three years, or prolonged absence with a presumption of death.” In the mid-1800s, they added two more reasons: “habitual drunkenness, intolerable cruelty and life imprisonment.” Connecticut had the most liberal divorce laws of the day.

Then, along came the western states. Their divorce laws were much more lenient, allowing a divorce for reasons such as “impotence, extreme neglect, fraud and a felony conviction.” Historians have noted that California’s divorce rates were highest during the gold rush when divorces were freely granted. Most petitioners for divorce, during this time, were women. Women were scarce in the West in the mid-1800s and many used marriage as a way to improve their financial standing.

In 1970, California enacted ‘no-fault’ divorce and the race was on for each state to follow suit. By the 1980s, most states had passed some kind of no-fault divorce laws in varying degree. The more fault-oriented states in the East have the lowest rates of divorce while the western states have the highest.

Filing a No-Fault Divorce

A fault divorce is a type of divorce that takes place and one party is considered to bear the blame for the break-up. There are several reasons given for someone to be granted a fault divorce. The established fault grounds are:

• Cruelty (causing redundant and unnecessary emotional and/or physical pain) – this is the most commonly used reason when someone is seeking a fault divorce
• Abandonment for a specified length of time (varies by state)
• Adultery
• Incarceration for a specified number of years
• Impotence or infertility (if it was unknown to the affected party before the wedding)

Why do some people choose a fault divorce? In some states, a spouse who can prove the other spouse was at fault can receive a larger share of the marital property or more alimony. Most states have a waiting period to receive a no-fault divorce; some people do not want to wait out this period.

Filing a No-Fault Divorce

A no-fault divorce is a dissolving of a marriage and no finding of fault (or wrongdoing) is required. No evidence is required for a no-fault divorce and no evidentiary hearing is needed. The divorce is granted after a petition is filed by either party to the marriage.

By the mid-1980s, all but two states had legalized some form of no-fault divorce. In 2010, New York became the last state to add no-fault divorce to their list of family law options.

The states that have retained some ‘fault’ to its’ family law do so in order to grant one party a divorce to bypass the waiting period. Most states have a specific amount of time that the parties must live apart before a no-fault divorce is granted. For example, in Maryland, spouses must live apart for one year before their divorce petition is approved. Some other waiting periods include three years in Texas and Utah, six months in Louisiana and Minnesota, and five years in Idaho (can be reduced if both parties consent).

Hiring a Divorce Lawyer

If you would like help determining your state’s family law statutes, please contact a qualified divorce attorney to help you become educated so you can make an informed decision.