What is no-fault divorce, and how does it work?

A lot of people think that “no-fault divorce” means that your spouse cannot get a divorce unless you’ve done something wrong (i.e., something to cause your spouse to “deserve” a divorce from you).

Actually, no-fault divorce is just the opposite.

No-fault divorce means that you don’t have to prove your spouse is at fault to get a divorce. You can get a divorce simply because you no longer wish to be married anymore.

Until no-fault divorce was made legal, you could not file for and get a divorce unless your spouse had committed one or more of the recognized “marital faults”. Each state is different, but in Utah (where I practice law), the “fault” grounds are:

  • impotency of the respondent at the time of marriage;
  • adultery committed by the respondent subsequent to marriage;
  • willful desertion of the petitioner by the respondent for more than one year;
  • willful neglect of the respondent to provide for the petitioner the common necessaries of life;
  • habitual drunkenness of the respondent;
  • conviction of the respondent for a felony;
  • cruel treatment of the petitioner by the respondent to the extent of causing bodily injury or great mental distress to the petitioner;
  • incurable insanity

As you can imagine, that made getting a divorce virtually impossible if the acts or omissions of your spouse didn’t fall into one of the “fault” categories, and many, many unhappy couples who wanted to divorce could not divorce for this reason. That’s why no-fault divorce was created.

In Utah, the no-fault phrase invoked to seek a divorce is “irreconcilable differences of the marriage.”

With no-fault divorce having been around for almost 50 years now (California was the first U.S. state to pass a no-fault divorce law when Governor Ronald Reagan signed it into law in 1970, New York was the last state to pass a no-fault law in 2010. Utah enacted no-fault divorce in 1987) and the increase in divorce it has brought with it, some have come to question the wisdom of no-fault divorce, but there is no indication of going back to the fault-based days of divorce.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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