Contemplating a split? A brief primer on divorce laws in the U.S.
Divorce law is just a complex as all other areas of law, which means it's very complicated. Since these laws are set at the state level, differences from one state to another can have a huge impact on the process of divorce and how settlements are developed. For this reason alone, getting good legal advice from an experience lawyer in your state can be vital.
Explaining every difference in state laws would take a library's worth of words. This articles addresses one important difference you will need to understand: What grounds for divorce are available in your state, and how will the choices affect you?
Grounds for Divorce
Back in the old days, divorce was hard to get, possible only when one spouse could prove the other had done something wrong. In other words, there had to be grounds for divorce. Traditional grounds included abusive behavior, adultery, desertion, criminal behavior and various kinds of fraud. Awards of child custody, property divisions and alimony were based in part on who was at fault or who, in the judge's opinion, was worse.
This made divorce highly contentious, leaving families emotionally shredded as well as legally divided.
No-fault divorce was created to avoid this conflict and allow a couple to declare they no longer wish to be married. No-fault divorce is also described as irreconcilable differences or incompatibility. Oklahoma first offered no-fault divorce in 1953, but after California passed a no-fault law in the late 60's, other states followed suit. Today all states offer no-fault divorce.
The No-Fault States
Some states only offer no-fault divorce. No grounds for divorce are considered, and alleged faults of either party are not considered in deciding financial matters. About fifteen states, including Arizona, California, Oregon, and Wisconsin are in this category. State laws change, though, so this is something you will want to research.
While the goal of no-fault divorce is a good is to reduce unnecessary conflict and emotional pain the consequences have not all been positive.
In the no-fault states, divorce is both easy and unilateral. In the states offering only no-fault divorce, one spouse can decide he or she wants a divorce and get one, whether or not the other partner agrees. Since the courts do not consider fault, a spouse who has behaved very badly indeed can get a divorce and be awarded a significant settlement. In situations where one partner is unhappy and wants out, there is little incentive to stay and work things out. In some circumstances, there may be a financial incentive to leave.
The bottom line is, in no-fault states, you can get a divorce if you want one, and do little to avoid one if you do not.