Skip to content

Divorce | Family

What Are the Grounds for a Divorce?

8 min read
Unbundled Legal Help

by Unbundled Legal Help

If you are currently thinking about a divorce, one of your first questions is likely “What are the grounds for a divorce?” Though divorce is fairly common in the United States, you may be surprised to learn that you must provide the courts with a valid reason for your desire to dissolve the marriage. 

The grounds for divorce can vary depending on the state where you live and the type of divorce you are filing. A no-fault divorce can be approved on the grounds of incompatibility, irreconcilable differences, or an irremediable breakdown of the marriage. There are many grounds for an at-fault divorce such as adultery, abandonment, abuse, etc. 

If you are unsure of the grounds that best fit your situation, or what type of divorce to file, we can connect you today with a divorce lawyer in your area. 

Learn more below about the grounds for divorce. 

The Differences between an At-Fault and a No-Fault Divorce

An at-fault divorce and a no-fault divorce can be substantially different depending on where you live and your specific circumstances. Some states no longer recognize at-fault divorces. Other states allow them but will require your case to meet strict criteria. 

All states allow no-fault divorces. Learn more about the differences between each below. 

What Are the Grounds for a No-Fault Divorce?

A no-fault divorce essentially means that neither spouse will have to prove that their breakup is the other spouse’s fault. Since every state recognizes no-fault divorce, they are typically faster, less expensive, and are usually the most common type of divorce. When filed, your spouse cannot object because the court will view the objection as an obvious irreconcilable difference. 

The most common grounds for a no-fault divorce include irreconcilable differences, incompatibility, or an irremediable breakdown of the marriage. Learn more below. 

Irreconcilable Differences

Irreconcilable differences can mean many things. When spouses file for a divorce citing irreconcilable differences, it can include many reasons such as:

  • Different political or religious views
  • Lack of balance between work and home
  • Lack of intimacy 
  • Failure to effectively communicate
  • Dislike of friends, relatives, etc.
  • Unequal responsibility for household chores


Incompatibility can ruin any marriage. It can deflate your relationship, cause resentment, and result in an unfulfilling partnership. Common reasons for couples citing incompatibility in no-fault divorces include:

  • One or both partners is unable to adapt and/or compromise
  • Effective communication is no longer possible
  • One or both partners does not feel supported by the other 

Irremediable Breakdown of the Marriage

An irremediable (irretrievable) breakdown of the marriage is a broad ground for divorce. It can include issues of incompatibility, irreconcilable differences, etc. In many states, this is the only grounds for a no-fault divorce available. 

What Are Valid Reasons for an At-Fault Divorce?

At-fault divorces are not as common as no-fault divorces. This is because all states don’t allow fault divorces and when they are allowed, it can be an expensive and lengthy process in comparison to the no-fault divorce. 

Though an at-fault divorce is typically more difficult to accomplish, many people opt to file for one because they do not want to wait for the required “period of separation” to expire before they can file for their divorce (requirements will depend on the state). 

Additionally, in some states, if a spouse proves that the divorce is the other spouse’s fault, they may be entitled to more assets, a share of the property, alimony, etc. If both spouses share the fault, a family court judge may grant a divorce to the spouse who is least at fault using a “comparative rectitude” model.

Listed below are a few of the more common traditional grounds for an at-fault divorce which include abuse, adultery, abandonment, criminal behavior, etc. 

Cruelty (physical and/or mental abuse)

The blanket term used by many states for physical and/or mental abuse is “cruelty.” Cruelty can include the willful causing of pain and suffering to your spouse. A judge will require concrete evidence to uphold cruelty as grounds for divorce. 

In most cases, it must be persistent, willful, and cause unnecessary suffering. Trivial matters that can’t be substantiated are usually not sufficient reasons to successfully file for divorce on the grounds of cruelty. 

Adultery (Cheating)

Adultery can be defined as the act of a married person voluntarily having a sexual relationship with another person who is not their spouse. This is not always easy to prove. Proving allegations of cheating without clear proof is possible, but can be difficult without the help of an experienced divorce lawyer. 

In some states, an at-fault divorce can be filed even when the “cheating” occurred after a couple has physically separated and begun filing for divorce. So, it may be best to wait until the divorce is final before you begin dating again. 

Criminal Conviction

Most states allow spouses to file for an at-fault divorce if their partner has been charged with a serious crime. Generally, the crime must lead to significant jail time and/or a felony conviction for a criminal conviction to be a viable reason for filing an at-fault divorce. 


If one spouse voluntarily leaves the other, that can be grounds for an at-fault divorce. To be considered abandonment, a spouse must have the intention of abandoning their partner. In many cases, there is a specific amount of time (typically a year) that a spouse must be gone before abandonment is considered a viable option as grounds for divorce. 

It should be noted that the year must be continuous. If your spouse comes back at any time during the year, it could restart the year-long waiting period. 

Other Grounds for an At-Fault Divorce

A family court judge can grant a fault divorce for many reasons. A few unusual grounds for an at-fault divorce include:

  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Cultural differences
  • Withholding sex
  • Infertility or impotence
  • Mental illness
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religious differences

Can My Spouse Stop Me from Filing a Divorce?

Your spouse cannot stop a no-fault divorce. If they do have an objection to the divorce, it would be deemed an irreconcilable difference. However, a spouse can potentially stop an at-fault divorce by convincing the court that they are not at fault. 

Potential defenses against an at-fault divorce can include the following:

  • Provocation 
  • Condonation 
  • Connivance
  • Collusion 

If you are considering an at-fault divorce or your spouse has already filed for one, it may be in your best interest to consult with a family law lawyer as soon as possible. In general, spouses do not use the aforementioned defenses very often since they can lead to an even more expensive and lengthy divorce process. 

Furthermore, the courts will eventually grant the petitioning party a divorce, as they do not want to force a person to stay married who does not want the marriage to continue. 

How Much Will a Divorce Cost?

The average cost of a divorce in the U.S. is roughly $15,000. Expenses that come along with divorce include filing fees, attorney fees, mediation costs, evaluations, etc. With costs being so high, many people choose to represent themselves in divorce proceedings. However, this is not typically recommended. 

It’s no secret that one of your largest expenses with a divorce is your family law lawyer. The average divorce lawyer charges $3k - $5k just to start working on your case, and an additional $300 - $500 per hour after that.  

If you are worried about the overall costs associated with hiring a divorce attorney, you are not alone. Fortunately, there are ways to save money on your divorce while still retaining legal representation. Learn about tips to reduce legal fees below. 

Tips to Reduce Legal Fees

Some expenses such as filing fees, process serving fees, mediation costs, etc. are unavoidable. However, there are proven methods to help significantly reduce your overall cost of divorce. Learn more about some of the most effective ways to save money on divorce costs below. 

  1. Work Towards an Uncontested Divorce: Contested divorces are notoriously expensive and lengthy. Couples who can negotiate on their own or through some form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) can substantially cut down on the time it takes to get divorced and therefore reduce their costs. 
  2. Know Your State’s Laws and Procedures: Every state is different. Making mistakes in procedure, not understanding your rights, and/or what you’re entitled to can make your divorce costly. If you are unsure of your state’s requirements, check with a trusted divorce lawyer in your area. 
  3. Take Care of Some Things on Your Own: You can save thousands of dollars in upfront legal fees by hiring an unbundled attorney to handle certain parts of your case, while you take care of the rest and save money. Learn more about unbundled legal services below. 

How Can Unbundled Legal Services Save Me Money? 

Divorce lawyers charge so much because they typically handle every aspect of your case when you hire them. Unbundled legal services allow you to hire a divorce lawyer who will handle the more complex parts of your case, while you take care of the rest. 

With unbundled legal services, you can hire a family lawyer to help you with your case for as low as $500-$1500. 

Before you spend thousands of dollars in upfront fees, get connected to an unbundled lawyer, and learn if your case is a good fit to be unbundled today.

Ready to Talk to a Lawyer?

Receive a free consultation with a more affordable lawyer in your local area

Related Blog Posts