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The Issue of No-Fault Divorce

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The Origins of No - Fault Divorce

In 1970, California changed the way people look at divorce and made it a lot easier to get out of a marriage by passing the second no-fault divorce law in the United States. In 1953, Oklahoma passed the countries first laws doing away with the need to find fault in divorce. It took 17 years for the rest of the country to follow suit. Some would say that we have become a progressive country when it comes to our divorce laws. Some sternly, disagree.

The Blame Game

Before 1970 and the move toward no-fault divorce laws getting a divorce meant proving that one spouse had done something wrong or had acted in a way that caused the breakdown of the marriage. Someone had to be at “fault,” which meant that grounds for the divorce had to be established. Such grounds might include adultery, physical or mental abuse, abandonment, confinement or holding against one’s will, insanity and the inability to be intimate with your spouse.

Free to Leave

No-fault laws took away the need to find fault. No-fault divorce law gives either party the freedom to sue for divorce with only the claim of “irreconcilable differences.” Born of these laws was the concept of unilateral divorce: either partner feeling the urge to end the marriage could do so and was free to leave.

Two Sides to Every Story

Some believe that the high rate of divorce in the United States is a direct result of no-fault divorce laws. The debate between Religious groups and politically liberal groups has become contentious and rampant with contradictory evidence meant to support the arguments of both groups.

The Big Question:

The question that needs to be considered by both groups is which laws, fault or no-fault will best benefit the needs of a husband, wife and the children involved in a divorce.

Current Status

New York is the only state that has not adopted strict no-fault laws. All other states have gone to no-fault divorce with some states also allowing grounds for divorce as an option. Southern states such as Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and Georgia have the most relaxed divorce laws and have the highest divorce rates in the country.

A few states, Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona have passed laws that give couples the option to choose, before they marry, which laws they would want to apply to their divorce should the marriage end. They can choose between “covenant marriage” or the no-fault option. In covenant marriage, couples agree to pre-marital counseling and to limit the grounds and options should they decide to divorce.

Although statistics seem to point to an increase in divorce since the beginning of no-fault laws, it would seem that the laws are popular with the general public. In Louisiana, nearly 97% of couples are choosing to go the no-fault route.

Background

No-fault laws are the result of divorce lawyers and Family Court Judges trying to change the way divorces played out in court. They were tired of dealing with feuding couples who were resorting to facts being distorted, lies being told and time being spent trying to figure out who had done what to who. In their minds, the old fault system of divorce was a threat to the integrity of the Family Court System and changes needed to be made.

As early as the 1930s, a treatise on American Family Court Law had complained:

“In divorce litigation it is well known that parties often seek to evade statutory limitations and thus there is great danger of perjury, collusion and fraud. In many cases no defense is interposed, and often when the case is contested the content is not waged with vigor or good faith.”

The true pioneer of no-fault divorce is the state of California because of the Family Law Act of 1969. The act was signed by Governor Ronald Reagan and took effect on January 1, 1970. By 1983, every state but New York and North Dakota had passed their own forms of no-fault divorce laws.

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