By Lauren Williams

The grounds for divorce vary from state to state although many states have adopted no fault grounds for divorce of incompatibility, living separately and marriage breakdown.  Despite this, some states still require fault to be established in order for a divorce to be granted.  Another way of putting grounds for divorce can be thought of as the legal reason for divorce.  It is simply not enough to say you simply do not want to be married to your spouse anymore in states that require “fault” to be established.

As a point of historical background, most states encourage marriage as being a good thing.  Therefore, in order to end a marriage, a sufficient legal reason had to be established to grant the divorce.  Through the past few decades, most states in this country now view an individual’s right to end a marriage as important if not more important than making someone prove a legal reason that a divorce should be granted.  As such, many states have instituted “no fault” divorce laws, which is covered in the section entitled “No Fault Divorce”.

Among the grounds for divorce are adultery, desertion, cruelty, incompatibility, living separately and apart, and marriage breakdown.

Adultery is defined differently in various jurisdictions, but can be thought of as sexual relations between a married person and someone who is not his or her spouse.  The reason adultery is a reason for divorce is the traditional assumption that sexual relations should only occur between spouses.

Desertion is a ground for divorce in many states.  Like adultery, it is seldom used today as a ground for divorce.  Another word often used by various states is abandonment.  This ground is somewhat difficult to define in general as each state has a different legal definition of what constitutes desertion or abandonment.  In general, desertion occurs when a spouse voluntarily leaves his or her spouse, with the intent to not come back, without the approval of the other spouse and without justification.

Cruelty has long been a ground for divorce.  Cruelty is when one spouse physically or emotionally causes harm to the other spouse or threatens to physically abuse the other spouse which results in the impairment of health or other bodily symptoms.  This ground for divorce has been widely used in the past and has been expanded to include the emotional harm elements in most states as being as bad or dangerous as the physical abuse.

Incompatibility is a somewhat recent addition as a ground to divorce.  The general definition for this ground is a deep conflict in personalities and temperaments that makes it impossible for them to have a normal marital relationship and that reconciliation is improbable.  This ground is widely used in the few states that do recognize it as a ground for divorce.
Living separately is another ground for divorce.  This ground was used often in the past, but has been replaced by marriage breakdown.  Normally, this ground is invoked when spouses have voluntarily lived separately and apart for a period of time usually defined by state statute.    The most common periods are one to three years.  The separation must be permanent and not temporary in nature.  In other words, if a couple decides to separate temporarily and then decides after a period of time that it is a permanent separation, the time period will run from the time intentions change.  To determine what the laws are in your state, please contact an experienced divorce attorney.

Marriage breakdown is the ground that most Americans are probably familiar with, albeit under the term “irreconcilable differences.”   The key to this ground is determining if reconciliation is possible.  The test for this in most states is subjective in nature, and it is possible for one spouse to file for divorce under this ground and the other spouse to want to remain married believing that reconciliation is possible.  Under this scenario, most states will grant the divorce.

For more information and to determine what the laws are in your state, please contact an attorney in your area.

Lauren Williams

About The Author

Lauren Williams is a legal writer for WomensDivorces.com and the USA Law Network.