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Who’s to Blame in a Divorce, and Does it Matter Under California Divorce Law?

By January 8, 2010March 6th, 2024No Comments3 min read

Adultery, insanity, collusion, cruelty, abandonment: In California, most of these circumstances relate more to the plot of a soap opera than to a divorce.  While any one of these could have actually motivated the divorce, a California judgment of dissolution (divorce) will be based only on either irreconcilable differences or (less likely) incurable insanity.  That’s because since 1970, California was the first state to implement the no-fault divorce.  Since then, many other states have followed suit, while others allow both fault and no fault divorces.  With a no fault divorce, the court can terminate the marriage without proving fault.  Compare this to a fault based divorce, where the termination will be granted only if you give and prove grounds for divorce within those reasons allowed by state law, or defend against these claims if you’re responding to a spouse’s petition for the divorce.  In a fault based divorce, the conduct of the spouse who’s found to be “at fault” may even be considered when deciding issues such as property division.  As of now, New York is the last state in the nation that doesn’t have a no fault ground for divorce.   

Under California family law, the most common legal basis for dissolution or for terminating a domestic partnership is “irreconcilable differences.”  This means that the marriage can’t be saved, because its breakdown is beyond repair.  After stating that irreconcilable differences have developed during the marriage, neither spouse needs to prove this in court, and there’s no need for both spouses to consent to the divorce.  Although, if it seems there’s a reasonable chance that the couple can reconcile, then the court must postpone the divorce proceedings for up to 30 days.  On the other hand, “incurable insanity” requires medical or psychiatric proof that a spouse was insane at the time of filing and remains incurably insane.  Even though California doesn’t allow fault based divorces, infidelity and other actions during the marriage may still be relevant, but for other reasons.  For example, if one spouse wasted significant marital money and other assets as a result of the affair, then sometimes that money may need to be accounted for.  This has nothing to do with placing the blame on one spouse or punishing his or her conduct, instead it’s about each spouse’s community property rights and responsibilities.  Meanwhile, adultery does live on as a ground for divorce in many other states.  An AP article published by MSNBC reports that in New Hampshire (which allows both fault and no fault divorces), adultery is not only a ground for divorce, but is still a crime despite past efforts to take the 19th century law off the books.

For some, it may come as a disappointment that blame can’t be legally placed on one spouse for the divorce, but by eliminating the need to prove fault, California has also eliminated unnecessary delays, costs, and even the blocking of divorce actions through defenses to fault allegations.  What’s more, a no fault divorce prevents the added emotional turmoil that comes with putting one another’s conduct on trial, even when both spouses agree to the divorce.  We’ll guide you through the steps of divorce and help you in taking the best approach when resolving important questions of child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support (alimony), and property division.  If you’ve decided that you will need to file for divorce or legal separation, or are facing a divorce action, contact Minella Law Group’s family law and divorce attorneys as early as possible to preserve your family security and better protect your financial well being.  We can be reached at (619) 289-7948.

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