What Is a No-Fault Divorce, When Did It Start and Why It Can Be Bad

Divorce laws have evolved significantly over time, reflecting changes in societal values and priorities. One of the most notable developments in divorce legislation is the concept of no-fault divorce. Unlike traditional fault-based divorces, which require one spouse to prove the other's wrongdoing, no-fault divorce allows couples to dissolve their marriage without assigning blame. This article explores the meaning and history of no-fault divorce, its advantages and drawbacks, and the ongoing debates surrounding its impact on marriage and family structure.

What Is A No-Fault Divorce?

No-fault divorce is a legal process in which a couple is permitted to dissolve their marriage without proving that one or the other has caused the relationship to fail. It is a streamlined process for agreeing to discontinue the marriage and settle accounts. It is also called an “uncontested” divorce.

When Did No Fault Divorce Start?

This form of dispute-free dissolution goes back to the 1700s in Prussia when couples were allowed to end marriages amicably. Many countries offer a version of no-fault divorce, including the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Russia, and Canada.

In the U.S., when did no-fault divorce start? We did not follow Prussia’s lead until the late 1960s when California became the first state to make it law. By 2010, all 50 states offered a version of no-fault divorce.

Fault-based divorce caused many issues, including a requirement for couples to concoct untrue stories or move across state lines to qualify for the dissolution of their marriages.

Advantages of No-Fault Divorce

Civil courts are flooded with cases from forfeiture to property claims. Settling disputes through the legal system is cumbersome, expensive, and time-consuming. Therefore, many jurisdictions have special sessions for family matters such as child custody, guardianship, and divorce. There are several types of divorce; no-fault is one.

A no-fault divorce allows a couple to avoid the hassle and cost of proving that one was responsible for the breakdown of the relationship. In this scenario, they present the court with an agreement that addresses the division of assets, child custody arrangement, and other loose ends concerned with the marriage (such as one spouse’s name reverting to what it was pre-marriage). These advantages are the reason why the entire country is comprised of no-fault divorce states.

Reduction of Conflict

Offering the option of no-fault divorce reduces the amount of acrimony and probably reduces the number of times that a couple will return to the court to settle other issues. At its core, a collaboratively settled divorce subtly emphasizes to the people involved that they have ownership of the separation agreement and divorce decree, which probably results in fewer efforts to tinker with it after a judge signs off. If minor children are involved, no-fault divorce lessens the potential of traumatization by vindictiveness and recriminations.

Fault-based divorce encourages couples who are incompatible to stage dramas and play out dishonest scenarios in order to qualify for divorce.

Less Expensive Legal Process

Time is money. Attorneys charge up to $400 per hour in parts of the country, resulting in divorces that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Because at-fault divorces are so expensive, lots of people struggle to afford them and have to live in abusive or stressful relationships indefinitely.

What is a no-fault divorce solution? In a no-fault divorce, a couple may use a trained mediator or share one attorney. The legal professional should keep the couple on track, shortening the number of sessions required to reach an agreement. Also, without attorneys posturing, bickering between couples can be reduced, spending half the cost of an average $10,000 divorce.

Protection of Privacy

Is California a no-fault divorce state? Yes, and even Hollywood celebrities can use the process to protect their privacy. In fact, when did no-fault divorce start? When California Governor Ronald Regan (later a U.S. president) signed the law there (he was accused of “mental cruelty” in his 1948 divorce).

Fault-based divorce can create public spectacles, especially if wealthy couples are involved. That’s because friends and neighbors can follow the proceedings through divorce records published in print or online. If a couple openly accuses one another of infidelity or other offenses that climax in a divorce, everyone in the community can find out about it through court documents and any newspaper or blog articles. A no-fault divorce protects the privacy of the people involved by reducing the time in court and resulting in a sealed divorce decree (the final settlement) that is not a public document.

Wealthy residents across the country benefit from no-fault divorce states just as much as disadvantaged people do. 

Why is No-Fault Divorce Bad?

Two negative effects attributed to no-fault divorce are:

  1. a more casual approach to marriage 
  2. less stability in households.

The divorce rate has escalated in the years since the no-fault divorce law was established; that’s why no-fault divorce is bad, some say. However, there is only subjective evidence that no-fault divorce is a major reason. It’s impossible to separate the effects of no-fault divorce from other social changes such as access to higher education, more equality between the sexes, social media’s influence, and expansion of the social safety net that provides legal help resources as well as domestic abuse shelters.

When did no-fault divorce start being controversial? When some people who believe in Christian-based “traditional values” decided it should be more difficult to obtain. But undoing no-fault divorce laws involves depriving women and those of modest financial means access to justice. That’s hard to do when the benefit of changing to no-fault divorce states has outweighed the negative impacts.

What Is No Fault Divorce

Potential for Abuse

What is no-fault divorce abuse? Repeated marriages and divorces. But it just replaces other societal issues like long-term philandering (affairs) and even people with two families (bigamy), which take place when divorce is harder to obtain.

Those who believe that marriage has deteriorated due to the ease of no-fault divorce are conveniently overlooking the way it has improved women’s living situations and options.

While no-fault divorce makes it easier to leave a marriage, it’s still not a simple process. Filing for divorce is always challenging, including:

  • documenting all shared assets
  • finding the right forms
  • hiring legal representation when possible
  • The painful process of deciding who moves out, who gets custody of dependent children and pets, deciding if one spouse should continue to support the other financially.

Getting married is the easier step to take, simply by presenting a birth certificate and a sworn statement to a city clerk (or, in the states that still allow men to marry underage girls, the permission of her parents). By comparison, a divorce, even no-fault, takes months, legal intervention, and many meetings to accomplish.

Concerns Regarding Fairness and Justice

No-fault divorce states were established across the country to ensure fairness and justice in the dissolution of marriages. By removing many of the financial and time-sensitive obstacles to divorce, the non-breadwinning spouse can file for divorce and expect a fair distribution of marital assets. In the past, the spouse who made the most money also controlled much of the divorce proceedings.

Impact on the Institution of Marriage and Family Structure

Marriage is two-faced: there’s the movie version of a happy nuclear family that doesn’t struggle to hold things together financially and in which one spouse either willingly stays home to raise children or has household help like nannies and housekeepers to maintain a career. Then there’s the reality of the institution, which requires daily work, sacrifice, and compromise to hold together.

What is no-fault divorce but an escape hatch that allows those who are ill-equipped for the realities of marriage to step aside without the trauma and recriminations of a trial? Certainly, the frequency of divorce has taken the shine off the institution of marriage, but in most states, courts and social services support people with classes about child custody and cooperation between ex-spouses.

In the early days of no-fault divorce, there was fear of the impact on children. Over time, those concerns have been allayed with the normalization of family counseling and widespread acknowledgment that divorce can be healthy for children whose parents were not suited to marriage.

No-Fault Divorce vs. Fault-Based Divorce

The difference between no-fault and fault-based divorce is that it is a streamlined process with a lower threshold of proof for the plaintiff. In addition:

  • Court costs are lower as attorneys are not always necessary
  • There’s less acrimony when a couple has to iron out a settlement before they go to court
  • Judges may still settle certain aspects of the case if the parties can’t come to agreement
  • State guidelines must be followed for child custody and visitation regardless of a contested or uncontested divorce
  • No-fault divorces reduce the caseload for state courts

No-Fault Divorce Law By State

All U.S. states are no-fault divorce states, but the specific laws and requirements can vary from state to state. You can find more information on the website of the respective state:




New Mexico

South Dakota




New York





North Carolina





North Dakota





















West Virginia



New Hampshire

Rhode Island




New Jersey

South Carolina


No-fault divorce has played a part in the rise of the divorce rate in the U.S. since 1970, but it has also allowed couples to spend less on dissolving unhappy marriages and reduced the caseload in courts. Is Ohio a no-fault divorce state? Yes, as is all 50 of the American states, regardless of political or ideological leanings.

What Is No Fault Divorce


Do Both Spouses Have to Agree to a No-Fault Divorce?

There are provisions for granting divorce when one spouse refuses to answer the court summons or refuses to agree to the dissolution. These are often called “default” divorces. In brief, no, both spouses usually don’t have to agree, but states deal with this individually, often with a requirement for notification to the spouse and a waiting period before the decision is finalized. Whether these are considered no-fault divorces is up to each state. Each state writes its own specific no-fault divorce law rules.

Can Fault-Based Grounds Still be Used in a No-Fault Divorce?

When opting for a no-fault divorce, couples give up the ability to publicly accuse one another of infidelity, drunkenness, abuse, abandonment, or mental illness. Most states use the generic phrase “irretrievably broken” as the reason, so no blame is assigned, and the court moves on to approving the divorce decree that both parties agreed upon. In brief, no-fault divorces generally do not allow one spouse to air grievances about the other, but some states may require a reason for the divorce to be provided (such as incompatibility).

Can a No-Fault Divorce be Contested?

By definition, a no-fault divorce is uncontested. In many states the couple must file for no-fault divorce jointly and present the court with a collaborative agreement that covers division of property and care of any dependent children. If a state allows one partner to file for no-fault divorce and the other partner contests the dissolution, the case may have to move to a venue for at-fault divorce proceedings.