All states offer some version of no-fault divorce. California was the first to pass no-fault legislation in 1970, while New York brought up the rear by finally passing a no-fault law in 2010. As a result, no matter where you live, you can get a divorce by simply telling the court that your marriage is over. You no longer have to prove that your spouse caused the breakup. The similarity ends there, however. Individual states put their own spin on no-fault rules.
“True” No-Fault States
At the time of publication, in 17 states and the District of Columbia, you can only file for divorce on no-fault grounds; the laws don’t give you the option of casting blame. These states, which include Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Nebraska, Montana, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Kentucky, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, Hawaii, Florida, Colorado and California, offer no traditional grounds, such as adultery, abandonment or cruelty.
Although true no-fault states will not permit you to file for divorce because of your spouse’s wrongdoing, some of them do offer other grounds for unusual circumstances. For example, California and Florida allow you to file for divorce if your spouse is insane or mentally incompetent. However, you have to prove it; it's not enough to simply allege that your spouse acts crazy. A doctor must confirm his mental state -- and some states require that he actually live in a mental institution.
When you fill out your divorce papers, you might not find a grounds-for-divorce box specifically titled “no-fault” to check. Beneath the no-fault umbrella, states use various terms to identify the grounds. In New Jersey and California, a no-fault divorce is based on irreconcilable differences, and in New Jersey, you can’t file for divorce until you’ve been of the opinion that you and your spouse can’t reconcile for at least six months. In Florida, a no-fault divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Both essentially mean the same thing: your marriage isn’t working for you anymore and you don’t believe your feelings are going to change.
No-Fault as an Option
In the remaining 33 states, you can choose no-fault grounds if you desire, but you also have the option of filing on traditional fault grounds. These states added no-fault legislation to their fault laws rather than eliminating the fault grounds entirely. Several states also offer a third option, a hybrid between a fault and no-fault divorce. This third option is living separate and apart for a certain length of time. Time requirements range from two months in Kentucky to 18 months in Connecticut and two years in Hawaii. Even some pure no-fault states, including Wisconsin, Washington, Nevada, Montana, Kentucky, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, recognize separation-based divorces in addition to their other no-fault options.
References & Resources
- CBN.com: New York to Adopt No-Fault Divorce Bill
- California State Capitol Museum: 1970 – 1979
- Divorcedex: Divorce Grounds and Fault
- American Bar Association: Chart 4 – Grounds for Divorce and Residency Requirements (PDF)
- FLDivorceOnline: Grounds for Divorce in Florida
- DivorceSupport.com: California Grounds for Divorce
- Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images