Grounds for Divorce

Grounds for divorce have historically  Divorced Families Co parentingbeen the reason why a partner feels justified in filing for separation or divorce. The occurance and import of using grounds has lessened significantly since the advent of no-fault divorces. New York State recently (2010) finally became the 50th State to fully embrace no-fault divorces (California was the first in 1969). New York removed the mutual-consent requirements and shortened the waiting period for no-fault divorces. The Middle Ages are now firmly behind us.

Grounds are mostly uniform across the States

All states require that you provide a reason for requesting (petitioning for) a divorce, even if that reason is an inability to get along. The most common grounds for divorce include:

  • Irreconcilable differences – probably the most common among the grounds. This term requests a no-fault divorce. States will also use irretrievably broken or irretrievable breakdown instead of irreconcilable differences. When this ground is used for divorce, it relieves one or both parties from alleging misconduct or fault in the marriage’s demise
  • Separation – depending on the state, couples are able to divorce after a lengthy period of living apart and separate, without cohabitation or sexual relations. The mandatory time frames can range from six months to three years. Couples are ordinarily asked to certify under penalty of perjury that they have lived separately from each other before a court will grant them a divorce. Some States require a Legal Separation, a process that mirrors the divorce process, replete with court filings, appearances, motions and court judgments
  • Cruelty – for one to allege cruelty they must provide evidence to the court. Cruelty can be defined in many ways (physically, emotionally, verbally, neglect, etc.). To prove cruelty, it will have occurred recurrently (repeatedly). Some States and jurisdictions use the term cruel and inhuman treatment as a substitute
  • Adultery – sadly, this ground is used frequently. The ground of adultery is often used in fault divorces when one party wishes to establish nefarious behavior that can influence the division of marital assets and spousal support (alimony). Not all States allow proof of adultery to impact property division or alimony. Some States will deny alimony to a spouse if it is proven that an accused spouse is guilty of sexual infidelity. Adultery can be an effective weapon to beat the other spouse over the head with
  • Abandonment – all States permit a spouse to receive a divorce based on abandonment. Sometimes called willful desertion, abandonment is defined by each State. The minimum range of time to be abandoned is one year to a maximum of two years. Similar to separation, abandonment has a ticking clock attached to it (the time abandoned must be uninterrupted) before a divorce may be granted
  • Mental illness – the vast majority of these cases result from a hopeless mental condition of one of the spouses. Mental illness can be combined with cruelty, or be cited with proof that the afflicted partner has not been cruel but has little hope of recovery. A spouse will need to provide proof to the court that the other spouse suffers from a permanent psychological disorder. States will assign a minimum time frame of ongoing illness (three to five years) before a divorce may be granted. The condition must be incurable
  • Criminal conviction – most states provide that incarceration (criminal conviction) and imprisonment for an extended period is grounds for a divorce


Other grounds can include substance abuse, sexual issues (impotency, sexually transmitted diseases, infertility, gender-identification issues, refusal to contribute to or provide for the other, etc).

On rare occasion, fault grounds for divorce can be disproven by the other party, resulting in the court refusing to grant the divorce. Examples include:
  • Condonation – a spouse defends him or herself by asserting that the other partner has forgiven or accepted the wrongful behavior of their spouse before filing the divorce action, and has affirmed that forgiveness with relations with them
  • Reconciliation – one spouse can prove that the other spouse has forgiven them by virtue of a reconciliation having occurred
  • Recrimination – the spouse being sued for divorce attempts to stop the proceedings by claiming the filing spouse is guilty of the very wrongs they are suing about
  • Provocation –  the spouse accused of abandoning the marriage defends the suit on the ground that the filing spouse provoked the abandonment

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