Family Law

Grounds for Divorce: Irreconcilable Differences

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney

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What are the Grounds for Divorce?

When you head to the courthouse to file for divorce, you need to identify the reasons, or “grounds” for ending your marriage. If you’re seeking a “fault” divorce, you’ll have state and prove at trial that your spouse's bad behavior caused the divorce. Some examples of fault grounds are:

  • adultery
  • domestic violence
  • bigamy (your spouse was married to someone else at the time of your marriage)
  • cruelty
  • abandonment
  • impotence for the length of the marriage, and
  • long-term imprisonment.

Alternatively, you can seek a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, also called a “no fault” divorce.

What’s a No-Fault Divorce?

Every state offers some sort of no-fault divorce. Most states refer to this marital breakdown as “irreconcilable differences.” What that this means is that you and your spouse’s basic fundamental differences make it impossible to stay married. For some couples, arguments over child discipline, politics, finances, or religion are severe enough to drive a permanent wedge in the marriage. Other couples may want a divorce because they fight a lot, have personality conflicts, or simply don’t trust each other. Whatever your differences with your spouse, they must be permanent enough that your marriage has become irretrievably broken. You don’t have to place blame or prove fault in a no-fault divorce, but you’ll need to attest that your marriage is broken beyond repair.

Should I File for Divorce Based on Irreconcilable Differences?

You might be tempted to seek a fault divorce because you want to list everything your spouse did wrong in your divorce complaint. However, this may not give you much of an advantage in the divorce, because most courts divide marital property equitably (fairly) or based on community property laws and won’t consider either spouse’s fault. Therefore, it won’t matter if you file for a fault or no-fault divorce. For example, in Utah--like most other states--judges consider the following factors when dividing property:

While most states won’t consider a spouse’s marital misconduct when divvying up property, a spouse’s fault can affect alimony in Utah and other states. For example, a court may order a cheating spouse to pay more alimony, and if the spouse asking for alimony was a domestic abuser or adulterer, a judge can reduce the support amount or deny alimony altogether.

No-fault divorces are usually faster and less expensive that fault-based divorces because you don’t have to go to trial to prove that bad conduct actually happened. Although alleging your spouse’s fault can impact some issues in your divorce, it will also certainly drive up costs, conflict, and animosity. So, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of a both types of divorce to determine what's the best choice for your case. The rules governing fault and no-fault divorces vary from state to state, so it’s important to consult with your own attorney for advice.

Do My Spouse and I Have to Agree on a No-Fault Divorce?

In most states, if you plead irreconcilable differences, you and your spouse won’t have to “agree” that your marriage is permanently broken. Even if your spouse wants to stay married and refuses to cooperate, a judge can still grant you a no-fault divorce. By the same token, you can get a no-fault divorce even if you and your spouse agree on all issues.

Many couples avoid costly divorce trials by reaching a divorce settlement through mediation or on their own. You and your spouse can resolve property division, child custody, support, and visitation issues together and still obtain a no-fault divorce. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to hire a local divorce attorney to review any divorce settlement. An experienced family law attorney can ensure that you’ve completed your paperwork properly and advise you on the legal consequences of your divorce.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I agreed to a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, but I’ve changed my mind. What can I do now?
  • What if my spouse filed for a fault divorce? Can I still seek a divorce based on irreconcilable differences?
  • How long will my divorce take?
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