No Fault Divorce

A no fault divorce is one in which neither spouse places blame on the other for the demise of the marriage. The couple seeking a no fault divorce merely has to assert that they are incompatible, or that irreconcilable differences exist. In a no fault divorce, the court grants the dissolution of marriage without requiring either party to show evidence that the other spouse breached the marital contract. To explore this concept, consider the following no fault divorce definition.

Definition of No Fault Divorce


  1. A divorce in which neither party has to show wrongdoing on the part of their spouse.


1970     Signed into California law by Governor Ronald Reagan

What is a No Fault Divorce

A no fault divorce is a dissolution of marriage that occurs when neither spouse is required by the court to prove that the other party did something that caused the divorce. No fault divorces are typically easier for all parties involved, as it eliminates much of the conflict associated with fault divorces. The non-filing spouse cannot object, or cannot refuse to get divorced, as long as the relationship meets the requirements set forth by the laws concerning divorce in their jurisdiction.

No Fault Divorce States

California was the first of the no fault divorce states, having passed legislation in 1970 that allows couples to obtain a divorce regardless of whether one spouse was at fault. New York was the last to become a no fault divorce state, holding out on passing such laws in 2010. Only 17 states, and the District of Columbia, are true no fault divorce states, not giving couples an option to lay blame. The remaining 33 states give people the choice between filing a traditional divorce, based on fault, or filing a no fault divorce.

No Fault Divorce Law

No fault divorce law varies by jurisdiction, and a divorcing couple must meet their state’s specific requirements before a judge will grant their divorce petition. For example, in a handful of states, including New York, the couple must testify to the fact that the marriage has been broken for at least six months. Some states have a no fault divorce law that requires the couple to live separately for a certain period of time before they can file for divorce. The length of time specified by no fault law varies, but is typically three months to one year.

No Fault vs. Fault Divorce

According to no fault divorce law, the filing party does not have to prove fault on the part of their spouse, but this is not true when it comes to fault divorces. This type of divorce is becoming more common as people simply do not get along or wish to terminate the marriage for one reason or another.

In a fault divorce, one spouse claims that the other spouse is to blame for the failure of the marriage. When this occurs, the couple does not have to wait through a separation period, as long as their “grounds” for fault meet one of the state’s requirements. In a fault divorce, the innocent spouse may be entitled to receive a greater share of martial property or spousal support. The innocent spouse must prove the other spouse’s wrongdoing to the court however, before the divorce will be granted. Adultery is the most common reason people request fault divorces.

For Example:

Wendy files for divorce, stating that her husband, Donald, is at fault for the divorce, as he had an affair with his secretary. Wendy offers evidence to the court in the form of photographs, text messages, and a statement by the secretary. Although Wendy’s state requires a 6-month separation period for no fault divorces, there is no waiting period for a fault divorce, and because she has proven her case, the divorce is granted within weeks.

Many states, including California, do not allow fault divorces. This is largely out of a need to clear an over-congested court calendar of cases that drag out because of the bickering between the parties. In a no fault divorce, one spouse cannot simply refuse to get divorced, or prevent the court from granting a divorce. In a fault divorce, the accused spouse can object to getting divorced. If the accusing spouse cannot prove the alleged wrongdoing to the court, the judge may deny the petition for divorce.

For Example:

Larry is very concerned about protecting his financial and property assets when he files a fault divorce. His understanding is that, if he proves that his wife, Natalie, did something wrong to cause the destruction of the marriage, the division of marital assets will be made in his favor. Larry appears at court claiming Natalie committed adultery several times, and he just can’t take it anymore. Larry wants to keep the house, both cars, and all of his retirement fund. In addition, Larry asks that no spousal support be ordered.

When questioned by the judge, however, Larry is unable to provide any actual evidence of Natalie’s infidelity. He has no records of phone calls or text messages, no emails, no photographs, and no witness testimony to present to the court. Natalie is not objecting to the divorce, but is requesting an equal division of marital property, and a substantial amount of spousal support. Because Larry could not prove his case, the judge orders the divorce, to be final six months after the date of filing, and divides the marital property equally. The judge also orders spousal support to be paid to Natalie for a period of three years, or until she gains full time employment, or remarries.

Comparative Rectitude

In rare cases, both spouses will file for a divorce and claim that the other party is at fault. In such a situation, the court considers the accusations of both parties, then grants the divorce to the party who is seen to be less at fault. This is known as “comparative rectitude.” Comparative rectitude divorces, also known as “least-fault divorces,” are rarely granted in the U.S., especially now that all states offer no fault divorces.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Comparative rectitude – A legal principle that provides a divorce to the spouse who is least at
  • Divorce – A legal dissolution of a marriage.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical
  • Irreconcilable Differences – When two people cannot agree on fundamental issues.
  • Marital Property – All property, financial assets, and debt acquired by the couple during the course of the marriage, regardless of who holds title to it.
  • Spousal Support – An allowance paid to an individual by their former spouse after they divorce or separate.