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Marriage is meant to be a lifetime commitment between two people. However, sometimes circumstances change and couples decide to end their marriage through divorce. The legal grounds for obtaining a divorce vary by state but generally fall into two categories – fault and no-fault.

Fault divorces require that one spouse prove the other did something wrong, such as adultery, cruelty, abandonment, or other marital misconduct. No-fault divorces do not require evidence of wrongdoing and are instead based on the couple no longer being compatible or having irreconcilable differences. Some states only allow no-fault divorces, while others permit both fault and no-fault grounds.

Common Grounds for Divorce


One of the most well-known fault grounds for divorce is adultery, which refers to a spouse willingly having sexual intercourse with someone other than their husband or wife. The spouse seeking the divorce must provide evidence to prove their partner committed adultery. Under adultery laws, a one-time occurrence can be sufficient to demonstrate grounds for divorce.


Cruelty involves one spouse mentally or physically harming the other to a degree that makes continuing the marriage unsafe or unendurable. Cruel treatment can include physical violence but also extends to verbal threats, emotional abuse, and other behaviors that cause reasonable apprehension of bodily harm. The abusing spouse must have intentionally or recklessly caused harm through a pattern of abusive conduct.


When one spouse has left the marital home, has refused to continue having sexual relations, and no longer provides financial support, the abandoned spouse may be able to get a divorce on grounds of abandonment. There is usually a statutory time period, such as one year, that must elapse before abandonment is considered grounds for divorce.


Most states have incompatibility as a no-fault ground for divorce. Incompatibility means the marital relationship is broken with no reasonable chance of reconciliation due to fundamental differences that have led to an irreparable breakdown of the marriage. Couples do not have to prove fault on the part of either spouse to get a divorce on grounds of incompatibility.

Irreconcilable Differences

Similarly, irreconcilable differences is a no-fault ground for divorce in many states. It is based on the idea that spouses have unresolvable conflicts that have led to the irremediable breakdown of the marriage. No proof of wrongdoing is needed – the couple simply cannot get along anymore, and the differences are so significant that divorce is the only option. This ground may also be called irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.


When spouses have been living apart for a certain period of time, such as six months or a year, the separation itself can serve as grounds for divorce. The separation indicates the marriage is irrevocably broken. Like other no-fault grounds, separation does not require alleging improper marital conduct occurred. The spouses must have been living fully separate lives in different homes during the separation.

Having an experienced family law attorney’s help in understanding the grounds for divorce in your state can make navigating this complex process much easier. The attorney can determine which options apply for your situation and guide you through gathering evidence, if required. They can advise you on which grounds would allow for the swiftest and least contentious divorce. With legal expertise on your side, you can move forward with confidence.


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