Which States Are No-Fault Divorce States?

By Christine Funk, J.D.

Which States Are No-Fault Divorce States?

By Christine Funk, J.D.

A no-fault divorce is premised on the idea that one spouse does not have to prove the breakdown of the marriage is the other spouse's fault, either based on their behavior or mental state. Instead, in a no-fault divorce, you merely indicate that the marriage is irretrievably broken, you have irreconcilable differences, or you are incompatible as a couple. Different states use different words to describe the situation, but, in essence, the petitioner (the person who seeks the divorce) is simply stating the marriage is no longer working and cannot be saved.

Woman looking upset and a man in the background

True No-Fault Divorce States

Some states have written their laws so that the only way to file for divorce is to assert that the marriage is irretrievably broken or that the parties have irreconcilable differences or are incompatible. These states include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

In these states, people do not have the option of asserting the other person is at fault for the divorce.

No-Fault Optional States

In the rest of the country, you may file for divorce either asserting one of several legal fault grounds or you may file for a no-fault divorce. Of course, every state has its own statutes governing divorce, but generally speaking, legal fault grounds include:

  • Addiction or chemical dependency
  • Adultery
  • Bigamy
  • Desertion or abandonment
  • Impotence
  • Imprisonment of one of the parties to the marriage (and, in some states, criminal convictions)
  • Marriage between close relatives (as defined by the statutes of each state)
  • Marriage obtained by force or fraud
  • Mental abuse or mental cruelty
  • Mental illness
  • Mental incapacity at the time of the marriage
  • Physical abuse or physical cruelty

Not all states offer all of these grounds for divorce. In some states, some of these grounds may also be grounds for an annulment, or a declaration the marriage never legally occurred.

In states where someone asserts fault grounds for divorce, the party asserting the bad conduct must prove their case. It is not enough to assert that a spouse is insane or that they have been cheating. Instead, if the accused party challenges the assertion, the petitioner must provide evidence to support their assertions. This evidence can be in the form of eyewitness testimony or it may come from physical evidence, such as text message exchanges, emails, social media posts, or good old-fashioned photographs.

In some states, the benefit of asserting fault grounds for divorce is a shorter period of time before the divorce is finalized. For example, in Maryland, a couple with minor children must live separately for a year before they can get a no-fault divorce. On the other hand, if one party can prove fault grounds, there is no waiting period. Different states have different waiting periods for divorce on no-fault grounds.

Because the no-fault divorce laws of each state are different and can change, it is a good idea to take some time to consider the pros and cons of pursuing a no-fault divorce as opposed to a divorce based on fault grounds. While a fault-based divorce may occur more quickly, divorce cases are a matter of public record. There may be some disadvantages to airing your dirty laundry in public, particularly if there are children involved.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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