Common Grounds for Divorce

The two broad grounds for divorce are fault or no fault. There was a time in the past when there was only one type of divorce and that was the one based on fault grounds, but these days all the states have adopted some form of a no fault divorce.

When we speak of the phrase ‘Grounds for divorce’ we are referring to the legal requirements needed for a divorce to go through, or the regulations that specify the circumstances under which an individual will be granted divorce.

In the US, each of the States has its own particular set of grounds of divorce, which might or might not apply in the next State. The person who goes for divorce has to not only state the reason for requesting for divorce, but also has to prove the stated reason at the divorce trial.

The two broad grounds for divorce are fault or no fault. There was a time in the past when there was only one type of divorce and that was the one based on fault grounds, but these days all the states have adopted some form of a no fault divorce. In fact, some states only offer the no fault divorce. The no fault divorce can be considered one of the easiest, quickest and cheapest forms of divorce. In both the cases, ie fault and no fault divorces, specific requirements have to be met before the judge grants the divorce.

In a no fault divorce, neither of the persons concerned is held to be responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. Some of the grounds for no fault divorce are:

  1. Incompatibility between the two partners can be suitable grounds for a no fault divorce.

2.  Irreconcilable differences is often synonymous with the no fault divorce. In this, the parties concerned don’t have to even prove any form of misconduct in their marriage before filing for divorce and have to just take a joint decision to do so. This is also called ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage ‘by some jurisdictions.

3. Separation or living apart clause is not applicable in all States of the US. It actually means that the couple neither intend to live together anymore nor be a part of each other’s lives.  It’s not necessary that the couple not share a common roof for this clause; they can also show proof that despite staying in the same house, they:

  • Stay in separate rooms
  • Don’t share household chores
  • Have no sexual relationship
  • Buy their groceries separately
  • Eat separately
  • Rarely talk to each other
  • Have separate social lives

The presiding judge gets to decide whether the couple has actually been living separately for more than a year. The specified period of separation differs from State to State and can range from six months to thirty-six months.


In a fault divorce, one of the party concerned, accuses the other of some wrongdoing that justifies the request for divorce. Some of the grounds for a fault divorce are:

    1.  Adultery, according to most jurisdictions, is considered as sexual activity of one of the parties concerned, with another person who is not the spouse. Only the spouse that has been cheated on can file for divorce citing this ground. While some States require sexual intercourse to have happened in order to term it as adultery, some States don’t take it so literally. Adultery per se, can’t be the reason for divorce in the following cases:

  • If you have forgiven your spouse for his/her sexual transgressions after its discovery
  • If it has been more than five years since your discovery of your partner’s adultery
  • If you encourage your spouse to commit adultery
  • If you commit adultery yourself

Though this ground for divorce is often used, it actually is a difficult one to prove and establish because you alone can’t be considered a witness by the court, so many individuals also cite a second ground, usually that of cruelty to improve their chances of getting the divorce. This ground is a hotly contested one because of the steep financial implications involved for both the contesting spouses.

  2. Abandonment is similar to that of separation, except that in abandonment your spouse leaves you or abandons you for at least a year. Abandonment covers cases of spouse leaving you, throwing you out or not intending returning to you. It is also termed as ‘willful desertion’ by some jurisdictions. In this case it has to be proved that the couple hasn’t lived together as a married couple in a long time.

3. Cruelty is the “cruel and inhuman treatment” by your spouse. When you feel that living together will negatively affect your physical or mental health, it is a ground for divorce. But, in case the abuse by your spouse happened more than five years back, this cannot be said to be justifiable ground for divorce. Cruelty covers a host of abusive behavior ranging from verbal, physical and sexual abuse, neglect of emotional needs and/or physical needs to that of alienation. This ground for divorce is usually cited with adultery.

4.    Mental illness or incurable insanity can also constitute grounds for divorce. Proof has to be submitted by the spouse filing for divorce, that the other spouse has a permanent psychological disorder that makes their marriage unsustainable and impossible. The psychiatric evaluation and diagnosis has to be done by a competent psychiatrist.

   5.   Criminal Conviction and imprisonment of a spouse is often used as a ground for divorce. The spouse filing for divorce has to provide proof to the court that their spouse is convicted because of an illegal offense. Some States require that the offending spouse has to be not only convicted of an illegal offense, but has to also be sentenced to imprisonment for divorce to be granted on these grounds. But, in those cases where the spouse had served time in a prison and been released more than five years back, the ground for divorce doesn’t hold good.

There are some additional grounds for divorce, which are applicable in some States and they include:

a.      Impotency

b.      Substance abuse

c.        Religious reasons