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Understanding the Grounds for Divorce

In order for the court to grant you a divorce, there must be a reason, or grounds, for the divorce. In order to get a no-fault divorce, you will have to prove that there was a breakdown in the marriage, but you don't need to prove that it was your spouse's fault. For a fault-based divorce, you will need to show that it was your spouse's fault that is the cause for divorce. Most states allow both types of divorce, but some states have only no-fault divorce.

No-Fault Causes of Divorce

Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship: Claiming irretrievable breakdown does not imply any wrongdoing by you or your spouse; it is about the condition of the marriage. Financial difficulties, conflict of personality, and distrust may all contribute to irretrievable breakdown.

Irreconcilable differences: Irreconcilable differences means that you and your spouse disagree on fundamental issues and always will. An example of this is when a couple disagrees on how to raise their children.

Incompatibility: Incompatibility means that the spouses' personalities are so different that married life is impossible and the marriage probably never should have taken place.

Fault-Based Grounds for Divorce

Adultery: Adultery is defined as voluntary sexual intercourse by a married individual with someone other than his or her spouse. Without eyewitness accounts or photographic evidence, it can be very difficult to prove. Circumstantial, or indirect, evidence is based on implications. Indirect evidence can be proof of opportunity, such as hotel records.

Abandonment or desertion: When one spouse leaves the marital home without intent of returning, it may be considered abandonment or desertion. To be considered desertion, there must be an intent to end the marriage; abandonment only requires a spouse to have left for a certain amount of time (which varies by state). To prove abandonment, there must be circumstances that show the spouse had no reason to leave.

Mental illness or incompetency: Divorce based on insanity requires one spouse to have been mentally ill for a certain number of years or to be declared incurable. Some states require the insanity to last for a period of at least two to five years. Insanity must be supported with medical or psychiatric records. An expert may also be asked to testify.

Bigamy: If your spouse had an existing legal marriage at the time of your marriage, bigamy may be grounds for divorce. However, it is the innocent spouse, not the spouse with multiple spouses, that may use bigamy as grounds for the divorce. In some states, a spouse may be considered dead if absent and unheard from for a certain number of years; that is not bigamy. The bigamist must be aware that his or her spouse is living at the time of the marriage.

Cruelty or abuse: Cruelty and abuse vary by state, but generally involve actions that harm or endanger physical or mental health. Some acts that are considered cruel include physically attacking a spouse, a spouse with a sexually transmitted disease continuing sexual intercourse without informing their partner of the disease, and wrongfully accusing the spouse of an extramarital relationship.