People contemplating divorce frequently ask about the grounds for divorce.  What are they?  What proofs are needed?  And, does marital fault affect the economic issues in the case, e.g., alimony, child support and property division?

Prior to 1971, New Jersey had only the traditional fault grounds.  To get a divorce, one had to prove that his or her spouse was guilty of some form of misconduct like adultery, desertion, extreme cruelty, sexual deviance, habitual intoxication or institutionalization.     Divorce was still pretty much a societal taboo and New Jersey intended to discourage divorce by making it difficult to get one.  In addition, corroborating witnesses were required.

The Divorce Reform Act of 1971 brought New Jersey into the twentieth century.  For the first time, New Jersey had a no-fault ground for Divorce and the need for corroboration was abolished.  This was a recognition that, although New Jersey public policy continued to discourage divorce, and, therefore, to encourage marriage, divorce was a fact of modern life.  Requiring unhappy couples to remain married to each other served no useful purpose for the couple or the children.

Unfortunately, the no-fault statute required couples to live in separate residences for a year and a half before they could file for divorce.  This did not help most people who  were often ready to sever their relationship long before they had been apart for eighteen months.

Finally, on January 20, 2007, “irreconcilable differences” was added to the menu of grounds for divorce and permitted couples who wanted to divorce to do so with more dignity than our law previously allowed.  Rather than spending countless time, energy and resources on saying bad things about each other, divorcing couples were given the chance to focus on child related and economic issues that  had a more important and more direct impact on their and their children’s futures.

Although all of the traditional fault grounds still exist, they are now rarely used.  Except in the most egregious cases (like an attempted murder), marital fault has no impact on financial issues.  Thus, most divorcing couples choose the more simple and generic allegation that irreconcilable differences have arisen, thereby giving themselves a better chance to leave their marriages with a measure of the dignity they came into it with.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice.  For legal advice, you should consult your attorney.