What Is a Unilateral Divorce?

By Mary Jane Freeman

Unilateral divorce describes a divorce in which one spouse terminates the marriage without the consent of the other spouse. Spouses can do this by filing for divorce on no-fault grounds, which allows couples to divorce regardless of whether the other spouse consents and without casting blame on the other spouse for the marriage coming to an end. Regardless of the state you live in, you may file for no-fault divorce.

What No-Fault Divorce Means

In the past, spouses could only obtain a divorce by mutual agreement or on fault grounds, such as adultery or abuse. However, in 2010, New York became the last state to finally adopt no-fault divorce, making it possible for spouses everywhere to divorce without getting their spouses' consent or blaming them for the divorce. Although every state now allows no-fault divorce, it is sometimes described as irreconcilable differences, irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or incompatibility, depending on where the divorce is sought. However, these terms essentially mean the same thing. Additionally, the phrase unilateral divorce is not commonly used. This is because no-fault divorce is equally available to spouses who don't have the other spouse's consent (unilateral divorce) and to spouses who do (consensual divorce).

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Examples of Grounds for Divorce

No matter which state you live in, you must have grounds to file for divorce. All states allow for "no-fault" divorce, meaning that neither spouse is held responsible for the marriage ending. Additionally, many states allow couples to request a divorce based on the fault, or marital misconduct, of one spouse. Depending on the state, finding one spouse at fault may affect the terms of the divorce.

Absolute Divorce in North Carolina

Most divorces in North Carolina are absolute divorces. Although North Carolina offers a second form of divorce, called a "bed and board" divorce, only the absolute divorce permanently severs the marriage. Further, all issues of the marriage must be settled before the court will finalize an absolute divorce.

What Is Known As an Ex-Parte Divorce?

When a couple divorces, in most cases the divorce proceeding takes place in the state where the couple lives. However, some circumstances may arise where one of the parties is domiciled, or has legal residence, in another state, and does not participate in the divorce proceeding. This is called an ex-parte divorce.

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