Understanding The Difference Between Fault And No-Fault Divorce

If divorce seems like it might be on your horizon, there’s a good chance you’ve done some research on what to expect. One area that never fails to confuse is when people read about fault vs. no-fault divorces. What constitutes “fault” in a divorce, and what effect does it have? Does Washington recognize no-fault divorces?

We’re here to answer some of those questions. Using our years of family legal matters experience, we have put together this post to explore the issue of fault vs. no-fault divorce and what it might mean for you.

A Brief History of Divorce Law

Not so long ago, the process of filing for divorce could be arduous. In the early days of America, divorces were typically granted only in cases where there was evidence of cruelty or adultery by one of the parties. Normally, one of the spouses would need to show that the other spouse had cheated on them, physically or emotionally abused them, or committed some other form of serious mistreatment.

Eventually, courts began to allow divorces in more circumstances and would typically grant a divorce so long as a judge felt it was reasonable. Still, couples were wholly dependent on the court’s discretion to grant a divorce. If the judge didn’t think it was appropriate, then tough. All this began to change in 1969 when Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, signed the Family Law Act of 1969. This law, which went into effect in 1970, changed America forever.

No-Fault Divorces

The new law gave spouses a new option when filing a divorce. A husband or a wife could now cite irreconcilable differences as the reason for the divorce. Gone were the days of having to prove adultery, abuse, or other wrongdoing. Instead, couples were allowed to separate if they simply did not want to be together anymore. Other no-fault divorce laws soon began to spread around the nation. Now every state has some form of no-fault divorce.

Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce in Washington

So which standard applies in Washington? It may surprise you to learn that not only is Washington a no-fault state, but no-fault divorces are the only type of divorce in Washington. So if you file for divorce in Washington, the only ground you can rely on is that the marriage or partnership is “irretrievably broken.” This does not mean that you cannot file for divorce if there is some sort of abuse, adultery, or other wrongdoing. It just means that the court does not have to go through the process of determining fault to approve the divorce.

What If My Spouse Doesn’t Think the Marriage is Irretrievably Broken?

When a spouse claims that the marriage is not irretrievably broken, the court must still grant the request for divorce. Only one spouse needs to allege the marriage is irretrievably broken.

Can Anyone File for Divorce in Washington?

Washington may be a no-fault divorce state, but that does not mean anyone can file for divorce. There are still specific requirements that the parties must meet to file for divorce in Washington. To file for divorce in Washington, at least one party must be:

  • A resident of the state,
  • A member of the armed forces stationed in the state, or
  • Married or in a domestic partnership to a person who is a state resident or a member of the armed forces stationed in the state.

Residency can be a bit of a flexible concept under Washington law. You may be able to show residency by:

  • Maintaining a residence for personal use,
  • Being registered to vote in Washington,
  • Having a professional or business license in Washington,
  • Receiving benefits under state assistance programs,
  • Attending a school in Washington as an in-state resident,
  • Using a Washington address for taxes, or
  • Having a Washington driver’s license.

If you are unsure if you qualify as a Washington resident, you may want to discuss your situation with an attorney. Even if you meet the requirements, the divorce process will not proceed until at least 90 days have passed from the petitioning party serving the other spouse with the divorce petition.

Invalid Marriage

You may also be able to argue that a marriage is invalid under certain circumstances. Because this is a relatively rare situation, the grounds for arguing a marriage is invalid are quite a bit stricter than the no-fault divorce standard. You may be able to show the marriage was invalid if:

  • You were unable to consent to the marriage due to incapacity or intoxication,
  • You or your spouse was married to another person at the time of the marriage,
  • Your spouse forced you into the marriage by duress or fraud,
  • You were underage and lacked parental or court approval of the marriage, or
  • You are too close in consanguinity (blood relation) to the other spouse.

A child born from an invalidated marriage is usually considered legitimate.

Talk to a Tacoma Family Legal Issues Lawyer

Filing for a no-fault divorce may be the best option for you, but it can also be a long and challenging journey. Attempting to handle the process alone could end in disaster, especially if your spouse has an attorney and you don’t. But you don’t have to do this alone. Our experienced team of family legal matters lawyers at Bolan Law Group. has been in practice for over 40 years, and we want to help you get through your divorce as painlessly as possible. So contact us today for your initial consultation.

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