Grounds for Divorce

The legal term grounds for divorce refers to the legal reasons for which a couple may be granted a divorce. Such grounds for termination of a marriage may be based on the fault of one or more parties demise of the relationship, or it may be no fault, in which neither has to state the other has done something wrong. Each state’s statutes lists the grounds under which a divorce may be granted, and even in a no fault divorce, certain limited grounds must be met. To explore this concept, consider the following grounds for divorce definition.

Definition of Grounds for Divorce


  1. Specific circumstances under which a spouse may be granted a divorce.


B.C.     Circumstances for divorce are referred to in the Bible

No-fault vs. Fault divorce

In many states, when a couple files for a no-fault divorce, they must be separated for a specified minimum period of time before the divorce can be filed or finalized. The period of separation varies by state, but may range from 3 months to 1 year according to state statutes. In a no-fault divorce, the couple simply agrees that they cannot stay married to due irreconcilable differences.

In a fault divorce, one spouse claims that the other is to blame for the relationship falling apart. In states that do allow fault marriages, the couple does not have to wait through a separation period before they can file for divorce. In such a divorce, the innocent spouse may also be entitled to a greater share of the marital assets, or even spousal support if he or she can prove the other spouse caused the marriage to fail. Most states allow for the filing of both types of divorce, but some states have embraced a no fault only system.

Grounds for a Fault Divorce

Each state has a distinct list of substantial wrongdoings for which a spouse may request a fault divorce. The most common grounds are adultery and abuse, but even in these cases, specific requirements must be met in order for a fault divorce to be considered.


Also referred to as “infidelity,” adultery refers to any type of sexual behavior engaged in with a person other than the individual’s spouse, including sexual behavior with the same or opposite sex. In order to prove this in court, the innocent spouse must have documented evidence, such as photographs, video or audio recordings, or a confession made by the cheating spouse.

Mental illness

A permanent mental illness is grounds for divorce in most states. The spouse who files for divorce must prove to the court that the other spouse suffers from an incurable mental disorder that makes the marriage intolerable. A competent doctor must have diagnosed the mental illness.


When a spouse has been imprisoned for a period specified in state statutes, it may constitute grounds for divorce for the other spouse. Most states require the imprisonment time to be a minimum of one year.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse may be grounds for divorce in some states, if the innocent spouse can prove that the drug or alcohol consumption lead to problems in the marriage.

Sexual Incompatibility or Impotence

Rarely, sexual incompatibility is used as a reason for divorce. The law in some states recognizes that, if one spouse cannot perform sexually, the other spouse has a reason to break away from the relationship. However, for this to be considered grounds for divorce, the sexual issues must have not been disclosed before the couple married. Some states also stipulate that the marriage cannot have been consummated.


Cruelty may include the infliction of mental or physical suffering on one spouse by the other. Cruelty may include such acts as physical violence, frequent displays of rage, and even repetitive false accusations or public insults. When filing for divorce on grounds of cruelty, the innocent spouse must show the court that the cruelty made the marriage intolerable in some way. The acts of violence or emotional distress must also be recurrent, as most courts do not consider single acts as grounds for divorce.


When a spouse leaves the home without the knowledge or consent of the other spouse, it is considered abandonment. To prove abandonment, the innocent spouse must show that the accused spouse left voluntarily and had no true intention of returning. When a spouse leaves for military service, or flees to escape domestic abuse, it is not considered abandonment.

Grounds for a No Fault Divorce

Most states allow no fault divorces, and some, including California, only allow no fault divorce filings. Even in such a divorce, a reason for the requested dissolution of marriage must be stated. The reasons offered for a no fault divorce are limited, and usually include:

  1. Irreconcilable Differences – also referred to as “irretrievable breakdown,” this simply means the couple cannot get along together anymore, and there is no hope of rebuilding the relationship.
  2. Incurable Insanity – also referred to as “mental illness,” this means that one spouse has a serious, permanent psychological disorder that makes the marriage impossible for the other spouse.

Preventing an Unwanted Divorce

When it comes to a no-fault divorce, the other spouse cannot prevent it from being granted. However, if one spouse files a fault divorce, he or she must prove the wrongdoing of the other spouse. If it cannot be proven, or if the accused spouse can prove he or she is not at fault, the divorce may not be granted. The other spouse can also use the defense that the filing spouse condoned the activities, or that the acts were provoked in some way.

For example, Elizabeth files for a divorce from John in a no fault divorce state. John does not want to be divorced and refuses to cooperate. Because it is a no fault divorce state, and Elizabeth has claimed the couple has irreconcilable differences, the divorce will be granted rather John likes it or not. In fact, if he refuses to file an Answer to the divorce complaint, a default judgment will be awarded to Elizabeth, and the property divided according to the documentation she alone has provided to the court.

Comparative Rectitude

In some cases, each spouse will claim that the other party is at fault for the demise of the marriage. They may each provide proof for the grounds for divorce. Historically, when this occurred and both parties were found at fault, the divorce would not be granted. However, the modern concept of comparative rectitude has changed that, as the courts now deem that it is not in the best interest of the public to force two people to remain married. Now, when both spouses are found at fault, the court will use the doctrine of comparative rectitude to grant the spouse that is found the least at fault the divorce.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Divorce – The legal termination of a marriage.
  • JurisdictionThe legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Irreconcilable Differences – When two people cannot agree on fundamental issues.
  • Marital Assets – All property, financial assets, and debt acquired by the couple during the course of the marriage, regardless of who holds title to it.