What is no-fault divorce?

Although there is always a reason for a marriage to fall apart, a no-fault divorce allows you to end your marriage without focusing on blame. Find out how no-fault divorce works and whether it is appropriate for your divorce case.

by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

No-fault divorce allows a couple to divorce without blame or fault. It is often the simplest path to divorce available in a state.

Understanding no-fault divorce

Originally, a married couple had to provide an acceptable reason for why they should be allowed to end their marriage and get a divorce. The reason for divorce is known as the grounds for divorce. California was the first state to offer no-fault grounds for divorce. Times have changed, and no-fault divorce is now available in all U.S. states.

What is no-fault divorce then? No-fault divorce allows one spouse to file for divorce without blaming the other or indicating that it was either spouse’s fault. The terminology differs with each state’s no-fault divorce laws, but to obtain a no-fault divorce, the spouse who files simply needs to state that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, irreconcilable differences, or incompatibility. In some states, living apart for a specified period of time can be the reason for a no-fault divorce.

How to get a no-fault divorce

When filing for a divorce, if you wish to obtain a no-fault divorce, you simply select the no-fault option as the reason for the marriage. No-fault grounds cannot be contested by your spouse. The simple fact of disagreeing with you about wanting a divorce just shows the marriage is broken. You are not required to provide proof that the marriage cannot be repaired. There is no testimony necessary about what went wrong in the marriage or what one spouse did to the other person.

Finding fault

No-fault divorce is not the only way to end your marriage. Fault means that one spouse is the cause of the divorce. A fault divorce requires you to give reasons for divorce in your divorce petition, and then if your spouse does not agree, to prove them to the court. Each state has its own acceptable list of fault grounds for divorce, but common reasons include adultery, insanity, imprisonment, cruelty or abuse, abandonment or substance abuse. Divorce lawyers can help you put together a case to prove fault, but be aware it is often more costly and always more time-consuming than a no-fault divorce.

Reasons for a fault divorce are different from the reasons needed for an annulment. An annulment declares that the marriage was not valid at the time it was entered into and includes reasons such as one party being underage, the spouses being too closely related, or fraud or force used to get one person to consent.

No-fault vs. uncontested divorce

A no-fault divorce is different from an uncontested divorce. Fault has to do with the reason for the end of the marriage. Whether a divorce is contested or not has to do with whether your spouse agrees with everything you are asking for in your divorce petition. In an uncontested divorce, the respondent or defendant (person served with the papers) chooses not to answer the papers or appear in court, or simply signs off on the papers and essentially says he agrees with everything that is being asked for. This includes not only the grounds for divorce, but things such as alimony, child support, property division and custody. An uncontested divorce can be a fault or no-fault divorce. The uncontested divorce moves forward very quickly since nothing is being disputed. A trial is not necessary. A contested divorce means your spouse does not agree with what you are asking for and the case will proceed towards a trial, unless it eventually settles.

No-fault divorce makes it easier to obtain a divorce and also often reduces the negative feelings between spouses, since there is no public blame for the divorce. No-fault divorce may be the best path for you.

LegalZoom’s Uncontested Divorce service is an inexpensive way to file for divorce if you and your spouse agree on most major issues. Otherwise, you can talk to an attorney for advice or help filing for divorce through the LegalZoom personal legal plan.

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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.