Whether it's school, work or weekend sports, no one sets out to lose or fail. Still, it happens; you can't win at everything, and sometimes things just don't go as planned. It's the same with marriage, and sometimes a divorce is the only answer

When spouses can't agree that the marriage is over and take advantage of a no-fault divorce, the one spouse who wants a divorce may be able to use a fault-ground for divorce, such as cruelty.

What is "Cruelty?"

While "cruelty" is a ground for divorce in most states that allow fault-based divorces, the laws vary a great deal from state to state on the definition of cruelty as well as what actions or conduct are considered. In most states, cruelty involves actions or conduct by your spouse that harms or endangers your mental or physical health.

Also, you need to show that the cruelty is so severe that you can't continue living with your spouse because it's not physically or emotionally safe for you to do so.

In the end, showing that your spouse has a temper, or "nags" you all the time or that you just don't get along anymore isn't enough to prove cruelty as a ground for divorce.

Cruelty Isn't Easy to Prove

Often, claims of cruelty in divorces come down to "he said-she said" situations, where one spouse gives examples of cruel behavior, and the other spouse denies it and tries to explain away or excuse the behavior. Without police reports, medical records, testimony from eyewitnesses or other strong evidence you may not be able to establish cruelty. 

Acts Considered to be Cruel

Examples of acts that usually are considered to be cruel are:

  • Physical attacks upon a spouse
  • When a spouse knows he or she is afflicted with a sexually transmitted disease, continues to maintain sexual relations and communicates the disease to the other spouse, who did not know about the disease
  • Repeatedly yelling, screaming or displaying rage
  • Constantly criticizing a spouse's abilities as a homemaker, breadwinner, parent or spouse
  • Staying away from the house too often without an explanation
  • Publicly flaunting a relationship with another person
  • Wrongfully accusing the other spouse of adulterous relations with another person

Several states allow divorce based on a similar but less strict ground of "indignities" or "neglect." Usually these terms refer to mental or emotional abuse, but it may include physical abuse, too.

It's important that you check the laws in your area, or talk to an experienced divorce attorney, for specifics on cruelty.

As a practical matter, the courts are very careful when it comes to ending marriages because of the social and financial impact divorces have on the spouses and any children involved. That's not to say, however, that you can't get out of a physically or emotionally abusive marriage. You owe it to yourself to put an end to the marriage and the abuse you're suffering.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I filed for divorce based on cruelty, but I stopped the divorce action because my spouse promised to stop the abuse and get professional help. If the abuse starts again, can I restart the old divorce, or do I need to start all over again? 
  • What evidence do I need to prove cruelty?
  • If I live in a state that allows both fault-based and no-fault divorce but my spouse has committed acts of cruelty, should I file for a fault or no-fault divorce?

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