California is a no-fault state, meaning you don’t have to make a case for why you want a divorce from your spouse.

Even if your partner was cheating on you, infidelity can’t and won’t influence the judge’s decision on the division of assets and liabilities, spousal support, or child visitation & support.

When it comes down to it, divorce papers simply offer an option to select “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for divorce. This means you or your spouse don’t see a way to stay together, and neither side is particularly at fault.

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Why is California a No-Fault Divorce State?

California was the first to become a no-fault divorce state after the California Family Law Act was signed into law in 1969. The law was enacted to stop the divorce process from becoming a theater of lying and hostility to prove fault.

Why “Fault” Divorce Doesn’t Work

Before 1970, couples had to prove that one party was to blame for the marriage breakdown to get a divorce. Unfortunately, this often meant airing dirty laundry in court and going through a lengthy and expensive legal battle.

As a result, parties often resorted to fabricating claims about abuse or cheating to “win” the divorce — even if the real reason was that they simply didn’t get along. Not only was this damaging for each party, children became the unfortunate victims, acting as pawns in heated court battles.

Impact of the No-Fault Law Rule in California

The no-fault divorce law attempted to improve the divorce process by allowing couples to end their marriage without assigning blame. This simple change makes divorce more streamlined and efficient.

A ripped photo of a couple getting a divorce in California

Do All States Recognize No-Fault Divorce?

Today, all states recognize some variation of no-fault divorce. However, in over two-thirds of the states, you can still file for a “fault divorce.” In “pure” no-fault divorce states, your only option for filing for divorce is no-fault.

Aside from California, seventeen other states are pure no-fault divorce states:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Fault-Based Divorce States

A fault-based divorce is still an option in many states. Fault-based divorce allows one spouse to request a divorce based on a “matrimonial offense” such as adultery, abandonment, or prison confinement.

Establishing fault can result in a larger distribution of marital property or alimony to the spouse that was not at fault. This makes it an attractive option for those that may feel “wronged” by their spouse.

States that still recognize some form of fault-based divorce include:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Equitable Distribution

While fault and no-fault divorce dictate the reasoning behind a divorce, equitable distribution addresses how the court divides assets if a couple cannot reach an agreement.

In certain states, the courts attempt to achieve a fair (not necessarily equal) allocation of marital property based on guidelines established by the state law.

However, California adheres to community property law as opposed to equitable distribution. Other states that follow community property law include Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Benefits of a No-Fault Divorce

The most significant advantage of a no-fault divorce is that it saves you time and money.

Fault-based divorce often involves lengthy court battles as each spouse tries to prove that the other was at fault for the marriage’s demise. But with a no-fault divorce, the process can be much quicker and simpler.

By removing the requirement to assign blame, judges are no longer influenced or pressured to punish the at-fault party. Instead, cases are now solely focused on upholding the state’s community property laws or enforcing clauses in prenuptial agreements without subjective bias.

Additionally, no-fault divorces can help keep the peace between spouses. When fault is assigned in a divorce, it can lead to finger-pointing and blame-shifting. With a no-fault divorce, you and your spouse avoid unnecessary drama and simply focus on practical matters.

Your attorney-client relationship becomes focused on achieving your financial and personal goals during and after the divorce. Amicable options like mediation become powerful tools to end your marriage smoothly and successfully navigate the next chapter of your life.

Person checking the benefits of a no-fault divorce in California

Are There Disadvantages to a No-Fault Divorce?

Some argue that the ease of the no-fault divorce encourages couples to call it quits sooner, leading to more “broken” homes. In the case of infidelity, the no-fault divorce may also result in a sense of injustice, with the guilty party avoiding any real accountability.

How Long Does a No-Fault Divorce Take?

The average no-fault divorce in California takes anywhere from 6 months to a few years. Timing ultimately depends on the complexity of the divorce. Keep in mind that a mandatory 6-month waiting period begins once the Complaint is filed.

Next Steps for a No-Fault Divorce

Sometimes, divorce is the kindest path for you and your spouse. A no-fault divorce is meant to make the process more straightforward. However, there’s no denying divorce is still challenging, and some cases are more complex than others.

Take the next step by educating yourself on the divorce process in California, and do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions.

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