The main difference between a no-fault and an at-fault divorce lies in the reasons for the divorce.
The Difference Between Fault and No-Fault Divorce
In a no-fault divorce, a spouse does not have to prove that the other spouse was at fault. It is sufficient to state that the marriage is not working because of one or more of the following reasons:
- The spouses are incompatible.
- There are irreconcilable differences in the marriage.
- The marriage has irretrievably broken down.
The courts do not require the petitioning spouse to provide proof about what went wrong in the marriage.
The spouse who is served with the divorce petition cannot object to the divorce itself. If he/she does object to the fact a divorce was filed, the court will simply consider the case to be a divorce by “irreconcilable difference.” However, in rare cases, where the evidence is compelling, the courts may investigate further.
The spouses are required to live separately for a specified period before filing for divorce in a no-fault divorce state. This period is also referred to as the “cooling off” period.
An at-fault divorce requires the petitioner to allege marital wrongdoing or offense on the part of the other spouse, and provide evidence for it.
Potential Reasons for At-Fault Divorce
- Fraudulently or forcefully getting married
- Abandoning the spouse without reason
- Abuse (emotional or physical)
- Incurable mental illness
- Any other reason specified by the state
The courts require the alleging spouse to provide evidence of the wrongdoing. An at-fault divorce process can be marred by acrimony, lies, investigations, deception, and false counter-allegations. The courts can take a long time to resolve at-fault divorce cases.
The courts provide the other spouse an opportunity to provide counterevidence for the allegations of marital wrongdoing. In very rare cases, the other spouse may admit to wrongdoing but still defend his behavior by proving that the alleging spouse condoned his/her behavior, connived with him/her in his/her wrongdoing or triggered the wrongdoing, or provoked him/her into committing a marital offense. Defending marital offenses requires witnesses, documentation, investigations, etc. Often, at-fault divorces take a long time to complete and are expensive. Therefore, at-fault divorces are rarely alleged.
Other factors to Consider
As of 2021, just 19 U.S. states are truly no-fault divorce states. A spouse cannot file for an at-fault divorce in these states.
All other states follow the at-fault divorce rule but allow spouses to file a no-fault divorce petition. A spouse can choose to file an at-fault or no-fault divorce in an at-fault divorce state depending upon the circumstances that led to divorce.
Everyone filing for a divorce, be it a no-fault divorce or an at-fault divorce, is required to fulfill their state’s residency requirements.
An at-fault divorce takes time and costs much more than a no-fault divorce, which is simpler and more affordable.
Another at-fault vs no-fault divorce factor to note is that states that follow the at-fault divorce rule allow spouses to file a no-fault divorce petition. However, states that follow the no-fault divorce allow a spouse to file an at-fault divorce petition only in rare cases.