The Pros & Cons of No-Fault Divorce

Updated 11/27/19

Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Divorce is never easy. For better or worse, when one does make the decision to file, "grounds," or the reason the divorce is sought, must always be established. Sometimes, it's also necessary to assign "fault" to either party. Faults, such as adultery, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and other wrongdoings, are often cited. And although every U.S. state offers some form of no-fault grounds for divorce, only 17 are known as true no-fault states, meaning there's no need to cast blame onto either party, and you can leave the marriage without providing a reason why. But as is true for most things, there are pros and cons to any no-fault divorce; it's important to appreciate its benefits and drawbacks before making such a fateful decision.

No-Fault Divorce Origins

A little background: In 1953, Oklahoma ended its requirement for spouses to find fault in their marriage in order to divorce. Sixteen years later, California followed suit with the Family Law Act, the first no-fault divorce law in the country that changed the way people viewed marriage, and ultimately, made it easier to leave. 

No-fault laws eliminate the need to accuse a spouse of doing something untoward in order to establish a divorce, rather, they only need cite "irreconcilable differences" instead. And while there are currently four basic types of divorce, all are governed by no-fault divorce laws.

Current Status

Each U.S. state practices its own individual brand of no-fault divorce—and some will also allow the establishment of grounds. Before marriage, several states (Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona) even give couples the option to choose which divorce laws would apply should the marriage end. (The other option is "covenant marriage," which involves pre-marital counseling and limited grounds.) Roughly 99% of the people who get married in these three states go the no-fault route.

And just to be clear, one can't really run off to another state and get a quickie no-fault divorce, either. All states require proof of residency, sometimes for as long as one year, before filing.

So if you're having trouble deciding which course to take, consider the key advantages and disadvantages of no-fault divorce.

A woman looking out of a cafe window pensively, while her S.O. is in the background looking confused.
Vincent Besnault / Getty Images

The Pros of No-Fault Divorce:

  • No-fault divorces are quicker, easier, and less expensive than at-fault ones; so you'll expend less negative energy, and ostensibly, drop less money, too.
  • Less conflict equals decreased emotional harm to dependents.
  • Monetary settlements are based solely on a spouse's need, ability to pay, and contributions to the family's finances, rather than on the bad things they did to cause the divorce. (Which may or may not be a good thing, we can't decide.)
  • It can empower people languishing in abusive relationships to leave, particularly because there's no legal obligation to publicly testify about the abuse that occurred.

But, like everything in life, no-fault divorce, too, has its disadvantages.

The Cons of No-Fault Divorce:

  • From a moral and/or religious standpoint, no-fault divorce is criticized as too accessible, and that it devalues marriage vows, aka your promise to love and cherish, until death do you part.
  • Most no-fault divorces are unilateral, meaning that only one spouse needs to think the marriage is beyond repair, thus trumping the other's potential desire to save the marriage.
  • Spousal support isn't granted. This can take a toll on women's (and homemakers') finances, in particular, especially if children are involved. Since most mothers are granted custody, the economic support they once counted on during the marriage all but disappears. (Then, dependents' quality of life suffers, too.)

So, Which Is Better?

The no-fault divorce debate continues to rage today. Some claim it's singlehandedly responsible for the breakdown of the American Family, while others laud its attainability, especially in the face of limited financial resources and awful things, such as spousal abuse and serial adultery.

But revisit the overwhelming statistics in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona, and you'll see evidence pointing to the fact that, when given the choice, a crushing majority of couples opt for no-fault divorces upon taking their vows—well before any hints of acrimony creep in. (Possibly, they realize that assigning fault could be the spark that ignites a yearslong firestorm of emotional and financial upheaval.)

Whether you agree or disagree that no-fault divorce is morally reprehensible, devastatingly one-sided, or just about the best thing since sliced bread, the option is still there. Either way, it's a sad day when you realize your marriage isn't working, but a no-fault divorce could very well be your easiest option.

Related Stories