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At-Fault vs. No-Fault Divorces


Divorces are typically classified into two categories — fault and no-fault.

Depending on the state you live in and the specific circumstances surrounding your separation, a judge may find one party at fault or neither of the parties at fault in the situation. Knowing the difference between the two is important before seeking an online divorce.

At-Fault Divorce

These types of divorces are not as common as no-fault divorces. Some states do not even recognize them anymore. However, in the states that do, an at-fault divorce results from one spouse filing for based on an identifiable “fault” of the other person. What qualifies as a fault? Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Adultery: the person looking to apply fault must supply documented evidence of adulterous activity, which many include videotapes, phone calls and text messages.
  • Spousal abandonment for a particular length of time: this means one of the spouses has left the home where they reside with no intention of returning. If they left without the consent of the filing party and remained absent continuously, this would be considered abandonment of the marriage.
  • Prison Time
  • Mental Illness
  • Emotional or physical pain that was inflicted by the other spouse: this applies to cases of domestic violence or abuse inflicted by the other person.

For the states that have fault divorce as part of their legal system, this type of divorce does not require the two parties to live apart for any length of time. If the case is successful and the other party is found at fault, the person held without fault is sometimes rewarded a larger percentage of marital property (possessions acquired while the two people were married) and/or additional financial support, which is appealing to some people.

The downside to filing for a fault divorce is that the other party can object to the fault claims. These defenses can drag out the proceedings further. Another downside to a fault divorce is how costly it is and how much time it requires. Divorce proceedings like these can go on for months, even years, costing both parties a lot of money in legal fees and other expenses.

No-Fault Divorce

This is a much more common type of divorce, as it essentially means the person filing for it doesn't have to prove any fault on the part of the other person. The most common reasons for no-fault divorce are “irreconcilable differences” or “irreparable breakdown of the marriage.” Essentially, these are complicated ways of saying the two people do not get along anymore and no longer wish to be married or in a relationship with each other. One or both of them believe the problems they have are beyond repair.

All states in the US recognize no fault divorces, and some states require that the couple live apart for a specified period of time before one of the spouses can formally file for a divorce. These living apart rules are in place because it's thought that if a couple spends some time living apart, there’s a chance they could work it out and reconcile. Always be sure to check with the laws of your state before you decide to file for a divorce by yourself. The more knowledge you have about the process, the better off you will be in the long run. In most cases, it's beneficial to file divorce claims in the state where you live so you don’t have to travel far to a court when proceedings are taking place.

One of the benefits of this type of no-fault divorce is that the other spouse can not object to the filing, as the court will see that opposition itself as an irreconcilable difference. A second benefit is that it avoids the costly blame-game type proceedings that would occur if a fault divorce was sought instead. It also prevents you from having to go into great detail about private details of your marriage.

On the other hand, a drawback to this type of divorce is that many people don’t get to share circumstances and facts that led to the breakdown of the marriage, and this can be an important psychological process for some people. If it's important for you to feel as though your voice has been heard and validated by a third party, you might opt for a no-fault divorce while sharing your story with a therapist, though.

If you’re prepared to seek an online divorce, be sure to check out our other content about details of divorce proceedings. We're dedicated to helping you get it over with easily — explore our site to find out how we can help.