The Difference Between Fault and No-Fault Divorce

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Fault and no fault are two different methods of obtaining a divorce. Traditionally, in many states, fault divorces were the standard, meaning, a couple could not get a divorce unless there was some good reason for doing so. Today, however, no fault divorces are far more common throughout the United States and every state has a no-fault option.

No Fault Divorces

The main difference between a fault and a no fault divorce is the reason provided to the court for the end of the marriage. When a couple opts for a “no fault” divorce, essentially that means they are saying that neither party did any one specific action that resulted in the divorce. Instead, they have both simply decided that they cannot or do not wish to be married any more.

Often, the married couple will cite grounds such as “irreconcilable differences” when opting for a no fault divorce. In such cases, the fact that irreconcilable differences have arisen that neither time nor counseling will cure is sufficient grounds for a court to terminate the marriage and to return the former spouses to the legal status of unmarried (single) persons.

In a no fault divorce or dissolution of marriage, the actions of the respective spouses in the breakdown of the marriage does not affect property distribution or spousal support rights, with the exception of spousal abuse. In some states, where one party can show that the other spouse perpetrated abuse, the spousal support award may be affected. In others, the property distribution may be affected by spousal abuse.

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Fault Divorces

With a “fault” divorce, there is an assertion that one party engaged in behavior that directly led to the need for the divorce. Grounds for fault differ slightly by state, but generally include adultery, physical or mental cruelty, desertion, alcohol or drug abuse, insanity, impotence or infecting the other spouse with a venereal disease.

In order for a fault divorce to occur, the party alleging the grounds for fault generally needs to have some proof of those grounds. The respective rights to distribution of property and spousal support can be affected by a spouse’s fault in causing the breakdown of the marriage in some states.

Getting Help

To determine what the specific grounds are for a fault divorce in your area, you should consult with a divorce attorney. It is also important to be aware that there are certain requirements you must fulfill for no fault divorces as well. For example, it is common that you will need to live apart for a certain period of time before the no fault divorce can be granted. A divorce lawyer in your jurisdiction can explain to you what the benefits of each method of divorce are and what you must do in order to fulfill the requirements and end your marriage.

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