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What is a No Fault Divorce?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The no fault divorce is actually a concept pioneered during the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia. Instead of allowing churches the right to govern the terms of when or how a divorce could take place, it allowed people to end their marriages more quickly, merely on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. This concept took much longer to catch on in other countries, especially the US. California was the first state to institute a no fault divorce law in 1969, but it was not until 1985 that all US states permitted the concept, and it may be interpreted differently in different states. New Yorkers who seek a no fault divorce do so by signing a separation agreement. They must then wait a full year to proceed with a divorce.

Essentially, a no fault divorce means that either spouse can end a marriage, and there really doesn’t have to be a reason in many cases. The cited reason is irreconcilable differences, but that can mean virtually anything from a spouse committing adultery to someone simply deciding they don’t want to be married. Where no fault divorce laws apply, it is virtually impossible to stop a divorce, since either spouse may initiate divorce proceedings and get a divorce under these laws.

The no fault divorce tends also to mean, especially in community property states, that the bad actions of one spouse does not affect the 50/50 distribution of property. Some issues of “fault” may be taken into account when it comes to considering alimony or child support. Courts may also entertain emergency petitions for financial help before a divorce has taken place. The no fault law can considerably cut down on time needed to appear in court, since judges don’t have to weigh the behavior of spouses in order to decide whether to grant a divorce. Instead when it is no fault, there’s little to no consideration of how or why a divorce is taking place.

This does not mean that a spouse can’t sue his or her spouse if the person has acted criminally. Even when a no fault divorce takes place, a spouse could sue an abusive spouse in civil court, or could take the matter to criminal court and demand prosecution of the spouse. There can thus be an unequal division of assets after a divorce takes place, if a spouse can claim and has proof of significant abuse.

Further, a judge may need to hear arguments of fault when determining alimony, or when determining child custody. So while a divorce may still be obtained for any reason, fault may play an important part in deciding who gets to parent the kids, and what alimony is to be awarded based on the actions of one or both spouses.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon122498 — On Oct 28, 2010

Belgium has a no-fault divorce as well.

By quiringhr3 — On Jul 08, 2010

I think that it is a great idea that Sweden makes parents who are filing for divorce wait a mandated length of time. With divorce rates increasing, it makes sense that the Sweden government would place a time period in order to have couples come up with other alternatives. Marital counseling should also be mandated to ensure that the couple is trying every possible avenue available to them.

Divorce, of course, does not only affect the people that are ending the relationship, but the children that were created by the forming of that union. Therefore, I feel that children should also have a voice in the course that their home life is taking.

By littletot3 — On Jul 08, 2010

Anon15813 - I found that there are a few other countries that also have no-fault divorce laws in place. These countries include Russia, Canada and Sweden; as well as the United States and Australia. Russia was the first to create this form of divorce, where both parties had no obligation, in 1918. In Sweden, the couple may file for divorce as a couple or independently. However, if they have any children living in the home under the age of 16 they must have a 6 to 12 month contemplation period.

By anon15813 — On Jul 21, 2008

what are the countries which allow no fault divorce other than america and australia?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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