What Does it Mean to File for Irreconcilable Differences in a Divorce?

By Anna Green

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When filing for divorce, states generally require the divorcing couple name the grounds under which they are bringing their divorce case. Irreconcilable differences is one of those possible grounds. Divorce laws are created on a state-by-state basis, however. Thus, it is not possible to file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences in every United Sates jurisdiction.


In many states, the term "irreconcilable differences" is one of the grounds under which persons may file for divorce. Filing under "irreconcilable differences" generally means that there is no hope that the couple will be able to work out their problems and save the marriage. In some states, irreconcilable differences may be referred to as an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Each state has different requirements for filing for divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences. For example, New Jersey requires couples to have experienced the irreconcilable differences for at least six months before filing the divorce complaint. Couples must “make it appear that the marriage should be dissolved” and show clearly the couple cannot resolve their disputes and save the marriage, explains Legal Services of New Jersey. In West Virginia, couples can divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, only if both spouses agree to this claim in writing.

No-Fault Divorce

Irreconcilable differences is a no-fault grounds for divorce, which means neither party committed any sort of extenuating act, such as adultery, abandonment or extreme cruelty. In other words, no-fault divorce is just like it sounds—no single party is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage. Since 2010, all states have offered some form of no-fault divorce, with New York being the last jurisdiction to allow couples to dissolve their marriage without citing a spouse’s fault. Irreconcilable differences is just one of several no-faults grounds that states might offer. Some states are purely no-fault. In other words, they do not allow couples to file for divorce on any fault grounds. In such states, irreconcilable differences or another equivalent status might be the only way to file for divorce.


A couple may want to file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences because such grounds do not require the couple to make any accusations of wrongdoing. This may be a good choice if neither spouse acted improperly and neither one has a fault ground under which to file. Additionally, choosing a no-fault grounds for divorce can make the process proceed more expeditiously than if a husband or wife cites a fault reason. Additionally, it can be difficult to prove certain grounds for divorce, such as cruelty or adultery. Moreover, filing under such grounds might not be of benefit to either spouse in custody or financial matters.

Contesting the Grounds

In many states, if one spouse does not believe he is experiencing irreconcilable differences in the marriage, the court will not grant a divorce under these grounds. To proceed with the divorce when a party contests the grounds of irreconcilable differences, a spouse will need to cite alternative grounds for divorce that are permissible under state law -- such as voluntary separation or adultery. Generally, however, contesting irreconcilable differences as a grounds for divorce will not prohibit a couple from dissolving the marriage. It may, however, prolong the divorce process.