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Grounds for Divorce

For a court to grant and finalize a divorce, one or both of the spouses must have grounds for divorce. Each state has its own statutory grounds for divorce, typically classified as fault or no-fault. Some states offer both as available grounds, whereas others only offer no-fault divorces; a single state, New York, does not recognize no-fault as a ground for divorce.


Originally, a court would only grant a divorce if one party could prove fault. A fault divorce requires particular wrongdoing by one of the spouses, followed by evidentiary proceedings to prove the wrongdoing. Each state has statutes defining what grounds constitute a basis for finding fault. Common fault grounds include but are not limited to:

  • Adultery or bigamy
  • Extended imprisonment of one of the parties or conviction of a felony
  • Addiction to drugs or habitual drunkenness
  • Cruel or inhuman treatment, including abuse against either the spouse or the couple's children
  • Abandonment or desertion for a period determined by state statute
  • Incurable insanity
  • Living separately for a period determined by state statute
  • Inability to engage in sexual intercourse or infertility


As a result of a growing concern that spouses were lying to courts in order to get divorced, states began passing no-fault divorce legislation that would allow a party to file for a divorce without alleging wrongdoing. California was the first state to pass such a law in 1970. While New York still does not offer a strictly "no-fault" divorce, if the parties sign a separation agreement and live apart for one year, a judge will finalize a divorce decree absent a showing of fault.

In a no-fault divorce, neither party must prove the other engaged in wrongdoing. Instead, the court will grant a no-fault divorce merely on the basis that the marriage has been irretrievably broken or the parties have irreconcilable differences. Today, most divorce proceedings are no-fault. However, in some states determination of fault can still be important for the process of dividing marital assets and property or calculating alimony or spousal support.