Examples of Grounds for Divorce
By Elizabeth Rayne, J.D.
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No matter which state you live in, you must have grounds to file for divorce. All states allow for "no-fault" divorce, meaning that neither spouse is held responsible for the marriage ending. Additionally, many states allow couples to request a divorce based on the fault, or marital misconduct, of one spouse. Depending on the state, finding one spouse at fault may affect the terms of the divorce.
State Law Variations
Each state has its own legal requirements a couple must meet in order to file for divorce. Every state in the country now allows for "no-fault" divorce, although New York did not do so until 2010. Many states no longer allow one spouse to blame the other for divorce; as a result, these states only allow no-fault divorce. In addition to legal grounds, most states have residency requirements the couple must meet to file for divorce. Generally, at least one spouse must have lived in the state for the specified amount of time, ranging from 60 days to two years, prior to filing.
Although no-fault divorce does not place blame on either spouse, most states require the couple to meet certain requirements before they may use no-fault grounds. Generally, in requesting a no-fault divorce, the spouses are alleging they have "irreconcilable differences," or the marriage is "irretrievably broken." Many states require the spouses to live apart for a specified period of time before filing for divorce. The waiting period may range from 60 days to a year, depending on the laws of the state.
Read More: Which States Are No-Fault Divorce States?
Many states still recognize a variety of fault grounds for divorce. Generally, in order to file for divorce based on the fault of the other spouse, you may not be at fault yourself and you must prove that the fault was the cause of the dissolution of the marriage. The specific grounds for divorce will vary by state, but generally they include adultery, cruelty, desertion or insanity. Other grounds may include imprisonment of the other spouse, bigamy, impotency, or habitual drug or alcohol use.
Effect of Fault
Depending on the laws of the state, proving that one spouse is at fault in causing the divorce may lead to a more favorable divorce settlement for the other spouse. Marital misconduct may affect property distribution, alimony, child custody or child support. However, some states do not allow marital fault to be considered in determining the terms of the divorce. Additionally, marital fault may be just one factor the court considers, in addition to the finances of each spouse and the best interests of any children of the relationship.
- American Bar Association: Chart 4: Grounds for Divorce and Residency Requirements
- New York State Bar Association: Divorce and Separation
- The Mississippi Bar: What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Mississippi?
- American Bar Association: Domestic Relations Law: Surveying The Alimony Landscape
- BYU Prelaw Review: Defining "Property": A Debate Dividing More Than Marital Assets
- Pennsylvania Bar Association: Divorce and Separation
Elizabeth Rayne earned her J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2009, advising clients on issues ranging from employment law to nonprofit management. For two years, she served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."