Irreconcilable Differences

The term irreconcilable differences refers to an inability for two parties to resolve their differences in order to save their marriage. In states that allow no-fault divorces, irreconcilable differences is sufficient grounds for divorce. In choosing this reason for divorce, the couple is simply stating that their problems have become so bad, they cannot be brought back into harmony. To explore this concept, consider the following irreconcilable differences definition.

Definition of Irreconcilable Differences


  1. Differences of opinion or will that cannot be brought into harmony, or cannot be brought into agreement through compromise.
  2. A relationship that has become relentlessly hostile.


Mid-20th Century    Americanism

Irreconcilable Differences as Grounds for Divorce

People seeking a divorce are typically required to name the reason, or “grounds,” for the breakdown of the relationship. Irreconcilable differences as grounds for divorce may only be used solely in no-fault actions. By citing irreconcilable differences as grounds for divorce, the parties are essentially telling the court that the relationship is irreparable, that they have problems that cannot be worked out, and that there is no solution for them as a couple other than to completely dissolve the marriage.

No-fault divorces are divorces in which neither party engaged in any behavior that ruined the marriage, such as adultery, cruelty, or abandonment. As the title would suggest, no-fault divorces are those in which it is neither party’s fault that the marriage is ending, or at least that the state doesn’t care if someone behaved badly. New York was actually the last state to get on board with no-fault divorces, and some states, including California, only offer divorces on no-fault grounds. In these states, the case load on the family court system is reduced by allowing couples to divorce, while not allowing them to drag out the case trying to prove one party is at-fault.

The handling of no-fault divorces varies by state and, while it may seem this type of divorce would be quicker, many states build in a “cooling off” period, requiring the couple to be separated for a minimum period of time before the divorce will be finalized by the court. Some grounds that would warrant an at-fault divorce, such as cruelty or adultery, can be difficult to prove, and invariably result in the public slinging of a great deal of marital mud. A divorce based on irreconcilable differences does offer the benefit of not having to prove someone’s fault in court.

Irreconcilable differences as grounds for divorce, sometimes referred to as an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage,” must be agreed to in some states, though others simply do not prevent divorce when one party refuses to cooperate.

Fault Grounds for Divorce

While requiring fault grounds for divorce is becoming increasingly rare, couples in some states can still file for an at-fault divorce under a select few categories. These include such issues as:

  • Adultery – Adultery can be incredibly difficult to prove, as the injured party must be able to show that the other party used marital assets to support his illicit relationship. Proving one party committed adultery may have an impact on division of marital property, as well as spousal and child support.
  • Alcohol/Drug Abuse – Alcohol or drug abuse can be a significant factor when the court is determining how best to divide the couple’s assets, particularly if the addicted partner cannot hold down a job, or spends an excess amount of the couple’s money on drugs or alcohol.
  • Abuse – How one partner treats the other, or the children, factors into at-fault divorces, potentially affecting property division, and child custody.
  • Mental Illness – Mental illness may be considered grounds for divorce, but it may have little effect on division of assets.
  • Sexual Misconduct – Sexual misconduct is more of a general classification that includes any behaviors that are unwelcome and of sexual nature. In order to be classified as sexual misconduct, the behavior must have been conducted either without consent, or by force, manipulation, intimidation, or coercion. Sexual misconduct is especially important to the court when determining visitation and custody. If a spouse has been proven to have committed marital rape, or if proof exists of child molestation, then custody will almost certainly be affected, with the offending party perhaps not being awarded any at all.
  • Withholding Sex/Carnal Abandonment – A spouse’s refusal to have sexual relations with his or her partner may be considered fault in a divorce, if that spouse is withholding sex willfully, for an extended period of time. Constructive abandonment is considered by some to be a form of domestic abuse, which would certainly qualify as a legitimate reason for divorce.

Example of Irreconcilable Differences Divorce Filing

Samantha files for divorce, based on irreconcilable differences, in her home state of California. Her husband, Frank, flatly refuses to get a divorce, stubbornly clinging to a relationship Samantha feels cannot be fixed. In this example of irreconcilable differences, if Samantha, or her attorney, follows the rules for serving the proper papers on Frank, providing proof of service to the court, Frank has only a certain number of days in which to respond.

Should he fail to do so, Samantha will be granted her divorce, based on the information she provided to the court, without any need for Frank’s approval or input. This is called a default judgment, and it is likely the court will divide the couple’s assets in line with whatever Samantha claims in her petition.

Although California is a no-fault divorce state, and a partner may obtain a divorce without the cooperation of the other, there is still a waiting period until the divorce is considered to be “final.” As of 2016, the minimum required waiting period from the date of filing of the divorce petition to finalization is six months.

Irreconcilable Differences Example Behaviors

Couples have a wide array of issues that may become such a wedge between them that they simply can no longer live together in peace. Examples of irreconcilable differences may include:

  • Unwanted involvement from in-laws
  • Failing to find a balance between work and a home life
  • Failure to communicate
  • Lack of sexual intimacy
  • Personal habits/idiosyncrasies
  • Lack of participation in household responsibilities
  • Relationships with friends
  • Political views
  • Debt problems
  • Differences in disciplining the children

Divorce Statistics and Irreconcilable Differences

Certain governmental agencies track the rates of marriage and divorce, also making note of the reasons couples give for their divorces. When divorce numbers increase, so do society’s concerns about the state of the modern family, social welfare, and the state of marriage in general. The CDC reported, in June of 2016, that the number of married folks in the country neared 2.2 million citizens. This amounts to 6.9 percent of citizens per 1,000 measured with the divorce rate being slightly less than half, at 3.2 percent among 1,000 married citizens.

Marriage has been on the decline for the past few decades. For instance, in 1970, 72 percent of the American population was married, however in 2002, that number dropped to less than 60 percent. However, while it has become an incredibly common belief that “all marriages have a 50/50 chance of ending in divorce,” the true statistics fail to show such a black and white picture of marriage and divorce in the United States.

About 80 percent of marriages ending in the U.S. do so on no-fault grounds. However, this statistic doesn’t really help statisticians understand why couples truly are getting a divorce, as “irreconcilable differences” is a broad term. Interestingly, divorce statistics in 2002 showed that first marriages had a 20 percent chance of ending in divorce after five years, with that number growing steadily the longer the couple was married, to 33 percent after ten years and 43 percent after fifteen.

Divorce statistics and irreconcilable differences connections measured in 2002 showed that while 24 percent of people who got married when they were over the age of 25 eventually got divorced, 40 percent of people who got married under 25 eventually got divorced. Statistics also show that women with parents who have stayed married are 14 percent more likely to remain married as well. Also, while a woman’s standard of living decreases by nearly 40 percent after a divorce, her emotional health actually increases. Less surprising is that women are more likely to have physical and/or legal custody of the children in the event of a divorce.

In 2002, it was estimated that over 23 percent of American households were led by single mothers, with less than five percent being headed by single fathers. Divorce statistics and irreconcilable differences examples also showed that custody is awarded to the wife in 72 percent of all divorce cases, with 16 percent being awarded to both parents and only nine percent being awarded to the husband.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Adultery – The act of a married person engaging in a sexual relationship with someone other than his or her spouse.
  • Marital Abandonment – The act of one spouse severing ties with the family, or forsaking his or her responsibilities to the relationship or family.

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