In 1969, California was the first state to sign no fault divorce into law. No fault simply means that things like extramarital affairs or abandonment are not of interest to the court as it applies to the actual divorce.
The official reason for divorce in California is “irreconcilable differences.” No fault means the court may not punish a spouse for hurtful actions when it comes to things like:
- Division of martial assets, including the family home, bank accounts or investments.
- Resolution of outstanding debts.
- Spousal support.
- Children support, custody, or visitation of children.
The California family law court typically grants a divorce after finding that irreconcilable differences exist in the marriage. The California Family Code doesn’t set out a specific definition of just what constitutes irreconcilable differences, but it does require that the breakdown of the marriage be “substantial” and not “merely trivial.” In simpler terms, the court must rule on whether the marriage is beyond saving.
Exceptions to the Rule
There are instances when the court may consider “fault:”
- Nullity (which invalidates a marriage as if it had never occurred).
- Breach of fiduciary duty.
- Domestic violence.
Even in these cases, though, the wrongdoing must be relevant, not just an attack on the other spouse’s character. For example, if child custody is an issue, it is appropriate to note that a spouse has an alcohol or drug problem and recently received a DUI.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
While it’s true California is a no-fault state, there is one area of misconduct that can influence a number of issues. If during the course of your divorce the court finds that one spouse breached their fiduciary duty to the other, there may be serious consequences.
In this case, the law allows the court to award one spouse 100% of a community property asset when the other spouse has not acted in good faith with respect to it. What this means is that neither spouse is permitted to take unfair advantage of the other just because they may have greater control of the community assets and money.
Consult an Attorney
Only one spouse needs to want a divorce to file for it under no fault law. If the other spouse does not want to divorce, there isn’t much he or she can do other than try to delay it through legal means. This often results in greater costs and, sometimes, the court may order payment of the other spouse’s attorneys’ fees for their unreasonable conduct.
Keep in mind that you can still get temporary orders for spousal support and/or child support, custody and visitation while your divorce is in progress. A consultation with a family law attorney will help you determine your best options.