What Are the Three Grounds for Divorce?

07Sep, 21

Even for couples who are certain their marriage needs to end, divorce can be a difficult and emotional process. Every state upholds unique divorce laws, and California provides separating couples with many options for approaching their divorce legally. This leads many to wonder whether they would need to cite a specific reason when filing for divorce. Specifically, couples who drift apart over time or simply no longer wish to be married anymore tend to question whether they need to provide a specific fault or reason for ending the marriage.

Ultimately, the reason you list when filing for divorce only matters in certain situations, such as if your spouse has done something criminal to compel you to file for divorce. Outside of situations like this, divorce will follow a similar framework no matter what the cited reason may be. That said, there are three general grounds for filing for divorce in California.

Irreconcilable Differences

The most commonly cited grounds for divorce are “irreconcilable differences.” This is a blanket term that describes any situation in which a marital relationship has been damaged beyond repair and the couple has no desire to seek further methods of reconciliation. Irreconcilable differences can apply in a marriage where the couple argues constantly and can no longer find common ground for even mundane issues.

When you are divorcing on the grounds of irreconcilable differences in California, you can expect a fairly typical divorce case. You and your spouse have the opportunity to take advantage of mediation or other alternative dispute resolution if both of you are agreeable to this option and are willing to negotiate with one another. It’s important to consult a divorce attorney about the potential value of divorce mediation as it can easily save both you and your spouse a significant amount of time and money in handling your divorce.

Marital Mistreatment

When one party has engaged in any behavior that negatively impacted their spouse directly, such as infidelity, financial malfeasance, gambling, or anything along those lines, the other spouse may file for divorce with cause, listing their reason for seeking the divorce. These issues are often lumped into the blanket term of “irreconcilable differences,” but in some cases, listing a specific reason for filing for divorce can have a positive influence on the divorce process for the spouse filing. For example, if the couple had a prenuptial contract in place and one spouse violated the terms of this agreement, their behavior would lead to the other spouse receiving a better result from their divorce, thanks to the terms of their prenuptial contract.

It’s vital to speak with an attorney immediately if you have experienced any type of physical violence or other domestic abuse from your spouse. Not only can you cite this behavior as grounds for divorce, but you can also have your lawyer secure a protective order on your behalf to ensure that your spouse does not engage in any similar behavior in the future. Protective orders are generally issued on a temporary emergency basis when first secured, but once a judge reviews the situation, they can issue a long-term protective order to ensure the victim does not experience further abuse.

Permanent Legal Incapacity to Make Decisions

If a married person suffers an injury or develops a medical condition that leaves them completely incapacitated and unable to make decisions, their spouse can cite their permanent legal incapacity to make decisions as grounds for divorce. The petitioning party must prove their spouse lacked permanent legal capacity to make decisions at the time of their filing the divorce petition and provide proof that they are unlikely to recover in any meaningful way.

Does Citing Grounds for Divorce Matter?

In any situation in which a marriage has irretrievably broken down, “irreconcilable differences” is the most acceptable grounds to list for filing for divorce. Perhaps you and your spouse fight constantly about finances, or you simply no longer feel romantically attached to one another. Both of these examples would acceptably fit under the grounds of irreconcilable differences. If a more acute issue caused the breakdown of your marriage, such as infidelity or spousal abuse, then it may be more appropriate to list a different reason.

If you need to file for divorce and are unsure of how to proceed with the first stages of the process, it’s a good idea to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible and have them guide you through the process. Your attorney can review the details of your situation and help you choose the most applicable grounds for divorce. If you are hoping that the reason for your divorce will tip the scales of your case proceedings in your favor, your attorney can help you determine if this is a reasonable expectation.

It’s also vital to remember that, even if your spouse did something specific to cause your marriage to fail (other than committing domestic violence or some other criminal behavior) it is not necessarily the case that “irreconcilable differences” does not apply to your situation. Unless you have a prenuptial contract in place and your spouse’s actions directly violated the terms of the contract, irreconcilable differences is a perfectly acceptable option to choose when filing for divorce. Otherwise, your attorney can help you evaluate your spouse’s incendiary actions and/or prenuptial contract to determine which grounds for divorce would make the most sense to list.

How Grounds for Divorce Influence the Outcome of a Divorce Case

California upholds many strict laws when it comes to divorce—namely, the state’s community property law, which dictates that each spouse receives 50% of their shared marital property when they divorce. Some people mistakenly believe that they will be entitled to a greater share of community property in a divorce if their spouse directly caused the breakdown of their marriage. This is not always the case. Unless you have a prenuptial contract in place that covers the incident or behavior that led to your divorce or your spouse has done something criminal, community property will be divided as equally as in any other divorce case.

Depending on the nature and the severity of their actions, your spouse’s behavior may influence the outcome of your divorce case in several ways. For example, if your spouse committed adultery and you have a prenuptial contract in place that includes specific provisions concerning adultery, you should expect the judge overseeing your divorce case to uphold the terms of your contract and enforce them accordingly.

In the event you do not have a prenuptial contract in place, but your spouse has done something criminal to cause the breakdown of your marriage, their behavior will likely have a strong bearing on the judge’s ruling of your divorce case. For example, if they committed some form of domestic violence against you or your children, it is very likely that they will obtain minimal, if any, custody or visitation rights over your kids. This means you will likely receive more child support than you originally expected, and you may be entitled to alimony as well.

In the end, if your divorce resolution does not meet your expectations, or if you later discover that your spouse hid vital information during divorce proceedings, or if your circumstances change significantly after your divorce, you can file a petition for modification to have your divorce order altered accordingly. If you have recently divorced (on any grounds) and believe that you need to revisit the issue for modification, your attorney can assist with this process.

Why You Need a Lawyer

Navigating any divorce case is challenging without a reliable and responsive attorney on your side. Your attorney can help you file your divorce petition under the grounds for divorce found most appropriate, or they can help you respond appropriately to the divorce petition sent by your spouse. Even if you and your spouse are relatively agreeable about your divorce, the process itself can be more difficult than you initially expect. Having a reliable attorney on your side is an invaluable asset. Your divorce will likely influence your life for many years to come; when you have an experienced attorney help you navigate the process, you can approach the situation with greater confidence.

If you and your spouse have a prenuptial contract, your attorney will review it carefully to determine whether it is still enforceable and also whether your cited grounds for divorce have any bearing on the terms of the contract. If so, you can expect your attorney to ensure the divorce resolution aligns with the terms set forth in the contract.

When you need to file for divorce in California but are unsure of how the process works, the right attorney can make a tremendous difference in your divorce experience and case outcome. Whether you are separating amicably or dealing with some tension with your spouse, The Law Offices of Michelanne Hrubic can provide the legal counsel you need to navigate the divorce process successfully. Contact us to schedule a consultation and learn more about what you can expect when filing for divorce in California.

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