Fault and No-Fault Bases for Divorce

In order to obtain a divorce, the parties must show that grounds for the divorce exist. Many years ago, a couple would not be able to establish grounds for the divorce absent some kind of fault. Today, every state allows a couple to obtain a divorce even if neither party can be blamed for some heinous act.

A fault-based divorce generally required that the person seeking the divorce prove that the other party had engaged in some action that would justify breaking up the marriage, such as adultery, abandoning the other spouse, extreme physical or mental cruelty, addictions to drugs or alcohol, or insanity.

Although abolished in most states today, some states allowed for defenses to any of the above. For example, if someone demonstrated collusion—such as manufacturing an affair so that the couple could get divorced—then the court would be prohibited from granting a divorce.

Today, every state in the United States allows for divorces without any required showing of fault. However, the parties must still establish grounds for the action. This usually requires that the marriage be “irretrievably broken” or that the parties have “irreconcilable differences.”

Florida has essentially eliminated fault-based grounds for divorce. Today, a divorce will be granted only if the marriage is irretrievably broken or if one of the parties is shown to be mentally incompetent.

Nonetheless, fault may be relevant for other purposes in a divorce proceeding. If you are concerned about the implications of a party’s fault in marriage, you should speak with a qualified family law attorney.