What is a No-Fault Divorce?

The most common line attached to the end of a famous marriage is “irreconcilable differences.” We’ve all heard it, but what does it mean?

It’s important to find that out because, for so many people considering a first divorce, the exact process can be mystifying. Most people who have been divorced don’t talk much about it, so when someone finds themselves in the midst of a situation that may call for a divorce, they often don’t know how to proceed other than that they will need a lawyer.

So, to help clarify things a little, I’d like to explain what “irreconcilable differences” actually means. That term really refers to what is called a no-fault divorce. To understand what that means, it’s worth going through what a fault divorce is.

Before no-fault divorces became legal across the country, to get divorced someone in the marriage had to have a fault. That could be adultery, abuse, or neglect. That need for a fault led parties to lie or exaggerate to get out of marriages, and since courts often favored the aggrieved person with property and other assets, that meant someone who simply had “irreconcilable differences” with the other person could find themselves punished for not cooking up the best story to sell to the courts.

Now that no-fault divorces are available everywhere, they are the preferred form of divorce in cases where no abuse or serious infringements took place. That usually leads to a “fair and equitable” division of assets, which means trying to keep things equal and reasonable for both people.

The fact there is no fault doesn’t mean a divorce won’t still be acrimonious. We’ve all seen scenes in movies where both parties are trying to decide how to divide up assets. Such scenes can get pretty nasty in the movies and in real life. But the point is, an effort is made to keep things fair for everyone no matter how much the two people don’t like each other.

Divorces are complicated. Just look at the list of potential issues on this family law page. If there has been no abuse, why add another level of complexity to the whole proceedings?

That’s why no-fault divorces have become the standard across the country. In fact, some states don’t even recognize fault divorces anymore.

If you are a person preparing for a divorce, remember that “irreconcilable differences” doesn’t have to be a joke term that means you are flighty and just don’t like how someone brushes their teeth. This term is really used to cover all manner of issues, including some of those that used to be labeled in fault divorces. “Irreconcilable differences” doesn’t mean you have to share everything or share custody of your kids. Those issues can still be worked out in the divorce itself. It simply means one person (and it only has to be one) wants out of the marriage.

Essentially, it’s the easiest path forward to end a marriage, which is why it is so popular.