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Grounds for Divorce

The bond of marriage and the nuclear family unit were thought to be sacred unions to be preserved at all costs. Divorce was a stigma and a “bad” marriage was a thing to be endured for the sake of the family and, in particular, the children. However, the last 40 years has seen a remarkable shift in emphasis in the area of divorce.

Originally, in order to obtain a divorce the pleading party had to show fault on the other side of the marriage, proving that the spouse had committed some act or activity believed ruinous to the marital relationship, such as adultery, cruelty, or desertion. The other party could then counter by proving fault in the pleading spouse or that the alleged activity did not occur. Fault was important not only in obtaining the divorce, but also in factoring property divisions and alimony.

No-fault divorce is the relatively recent invention of legislators who deemed it necessary in order to allow women to free themselves from destructive marriages. Under no-fault divorce, a party does not need to prove any fault; all that is required is to claim that there exists irretrievable breakdown or irreconcilable differences between the spouses or desertion. The pleading party in a divorce action merely needs to claim that she or he is so unhappy that leaving home (or “constructive desertion”) or dissolving the marriage is the only solution.

All states have adopted no-fault divorce, either as the only grounds for divorce or as an additional ground. As a practical matter, however, the other grounds are seldom used owing to the difficulty of proving things like adultery, mental cruelty, and the like. These are only used in situations where proof of fault will affect the court’s decisions with regard to the distribution of property, alimony, or child custody. Thus, only about 10 percent of divorces actually go to trial today.

In the accompanying table, the No-Fault column lists the particular type of no-fault statute that exists in the state. If there are no items listed under Grounds, then no-fault is the only ground for divorce in that state. If grounds are listed, no-fault is simply an additional available ground.

Inside Grounds for Divorce