What Is Meant by Fraud As a Grounds for Divorce?

by Heather Frances J.D. Google

In many states, spouses wishing to file for divorce can choose one of many grounds, or reasons, upon which to base their divorce. State laws can vary widely when it comes to divorce law. In some states, the fraudulent conduct of one spouse may provide grounds for divorce, though this is more commonly grounds for annulment -- which voids the marriage as if it never existed -- rather than divorce.

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Grounds

Each state has its own list of grounds for divorce, and only some states consider fraud as grounds. Some states, like California, do not recognize any fault grounds at all. However, most states have both fault-based and no-fault grounds for divorce, like “incompatibility” or “irreconcilable differences.” If a spouse files for divorce based on fault grounds, such as fraud, she must prove these grounds to the court with evidence, typically testimony or documentary proof, especially if the other spouse contests the wrongdoing. This is in contrast to no-fault grounds, which typically require little or no proof.

Fraud

The definition of fraud in the context of divorce law varies between states. Generally, it means that one spouse grossly misrepresented issues so important that the other spouse would not have married him had she known the truth. For example, when a husband tells his wife before they married that he had never been married before and she discovers after the marriage that he was lying. His lie about his previous marriage may be considered fraud, especially if the wife can show that she would not have married him had she known this was his second marriage. Little white lies usually do not constitute fraud.

Fraud’s Impact

If the filing spouse is able to prove fraud, the divorce court may be more sympathetic to the filing spouse and give her a larger share of property if state law allows him to consider the misconduct as part of property division. Financial fraud is particularly relevant to decisions about property division and spousal support. However, some states do not allow judges to consider misconduct or fault when making property decisions.

Reopening a Divorce

If the fraud occurred during the divorce itself, it may be grounds to reopen the divorce proceedings or change a divorce judgment or decree. For example, if one spouse discovers after the divorce that the other spouse lied to the court about his income, the victim spouse could ask the court to reopen the case and reconsider its decisions in light of the new information.