States With the Most Relaxed Divorce Laws
By Beverly Bird
The ease with which you can get a divorce usually depends on whether you and your spouse are fighting over issues or if your case is uncontested because you've reached an agreement. Even if you've reached an agreement, however, some states make the divorce process more difficult and time-consuming than others.
All states require that you live there before you can file for divorce in their jurisdictions, and some require that you do so for quite a while. For example, the residency requirement in New York is two years if you were not married there. A handful of states, such as Connecticut, Nebraska and New Jersey, require a year's residency. However, five states don't require that you live there for any duration or continuous period of time at all: Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana, South Dakota and Washington. If you move to any of these states, you can file for divorce the same day you arrive.
Grounds for Divorce
All states recognize some form of no-fault divorce grounds, so you don't have to accuse your spouse of any wrongdoing that contributed to the end of your marriage. The majority of states allow you to cite incompatibility in your complaint or petition, such as irreconcilable differences or irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and you generally don't have to prove anything to the court. Other states aren't quite this relaxed, however. For example, in North Carolina, you must separate from your spouse and wait a year before you can file for divorce -- your only other option is proving that your spouse is incurably insane.
Read More: Examples of Grounds for Divorce
Dividing marital property is often one of the most contentious aspects of divorce, but one state doesn't require that you do so before you can end your marriage. You might have to wait a year to qualify for divorce in North Carolina, but after you've dealt with that hurdle, the state is willing to simply divorce you without dealing with things like custody, property or alimony. If you don't ask the court to divide your property before your divorce is final, however, you're out of luck -- you can't go back to decide issues of ownership later. Nine other states are at least somewhat relaxed regarding property. These are the community property states: California, Nevada, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Washington, Wisconsin and Idaho. They divide marital property right down the middle, half to you and half to your spouse, and the courts typically don't want to hear any haggling over who deserves more.
Division of property usually only applies to assets you acquired during your marriage, but 13 states complicate property issues by occasionally pulling premarital property into the marital estate for distribution. If you're looking for a relaxed and uncomplicated divorce, you'll probably want to avoid them. They include Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, Washington and West Virginia.
If you and your spouse manage to reach a settlement agreement on all issues so your divorce is uncontested, you can simply submit your paperwork to the court in New York and be done with it -- you don't have to appear before a judge for a final hearing. Most states require that the spouse who filed for divorce appear, and some require that both spouses go to court. In some Massachusetts counties, you can appear before a judge the same day you file your divorce paperwork.
And the Winner Is ...
Overall, Nevada has the edge over other states when it comes to relaxed divorce laws. The residency requirement is only six weeks, it offers no-fault grounds of incompatibility, and it's a community property state that doesn't get bogged down trying to address issues of your separate property. If your divorce is uncontested, you typically don't have to go to court to have it finalized, and the entire process, from start to finish, can be over in as little as a month.
- American Bar Association Family Law Quarterly: Chart 4 – Grounds for Divorce and Residency Requirements (PDF)
- Rosen Law Firm: Absolute Divorce – The Details
- Bedrock Divorce Advisors: Do You Live in a Community Property State or an Equitable Distribution State?
- Daniel E. Dalton: Uncontested/No-Fault Divorce
- American Bar Association Family Law Quarterly: Chart 5 – Property Division (PDF)
- South Brooklyn Legal Services: Who Can File a Divorce in New York State?
- Rice Law: Property Settlement
- Jennifer R. Lewis Kannegieter: New York Becomes 50th State to Recognize No-Fault Divorce
- The Dickerson Law Group: Uncontested Divorce
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.