Irreconcilable Differences as a Grounds for Divorce: the Definition and Process
Irreconcilable Differences: The Basics
When you prepare your divorce papers, your state's laws with generally require you to describe the reasons while you and your spouse want to end your marriage. Although each each state has its own allowable reasons for divorce, irreconcilable difference is one of the most commonly accepted--and cited--grounds on which couples end their marriage. While your state may not use the term "irreconcilable differences," virtually all states have a similar provision for divorce: that is, that you and your spouse have tried to fix your marriage but realized it cannot be repaired.
Citing Your Grounds for Dissolution
Because divorce is governed by state law, the exact requirements to divorce based on irreconcilable differences will vary based on where you live. For example, some states may require you and your spouse to maintain separate residences for a fixed period of time, generally, six to twelve months. During this time, you typically cannot reunite with your spouse even temporarily or the time frame will start over again. This is generally to show the court that your marriage is beyond the point of repair.
When you separate based on irreconcilable differences, you will need to state these facts in your divorce papers and show that you have met all state requirements. The law may require as little as a line in your divorce papers indicating that you have tried to repair your marriage, but you believe there is no way that it can be fixed.
Because the requirements to file for a dissolution of marriage based on irreconcilable differences can vary so widely across state lines, it is generally advisable to talk to an attorney or the clerk of your local courthouse at the time you and your spouse decide to separate with the intention of divorcing or wish to divorce immediately.
Irreconcilable Differences and No-Fault Divorce Laws
When you file for divorce based on irreconcilable differences, this is called a "no fault divorce." A no fault divorce is just as it sounds; it means that neither spouse alone was responsible for the marriage's failure. In 2010, New York became the last U.S. state to allow for some form of no-fault divorce. This means that as long as you and your spouse reside in the United States, your state will allow a grounds for divorce similar to irreconcilable differences, even if it is not referred to by this term.
Although each state allows for no-fault divorce, some states allow you to file for divorce when one party has directly caused the downfall of the marriage. For example, most states allow you to file for divorce if you spouse abandoned you, committed adultery, or is abusive. While no-fault divorce is generally simple, as there is little to prove in your divorce case, when you cite a wrongdoing as a reason for divorce, there is generally no waiting period. For example, if you have clear evidence that your spouse cheated on you, the court will typically grant the divorce as soon as they hear the case. They will not make you maintain separate residences or make you and your spouse go through an extensive waiting period before granting the divorce.
Benefits of Filing for Divorce Because of Irreconcilable Differences
Sometimes, irreconcilable differences may be the only grounds that adequately describe a couple's situation, for example, one that went to marriage counseling, separated for a year, and realized that they would never be able to resolve their problems. In other cases, couples may choose irreconcilable differences even if they may have other grounds on which to file for divorce. For example, if a wife believes that her husband cheated on her but has no material proof that he did so, it may be nearly impossible to file for divorce on the grounds of adultery.
Divorcing couples may also choose to end their marriage citing irreconcilable differences to avoid complicated divorce hearings. For example, if a wife walks on out her husband and moves into her own apartment, her husband might be able to rightfully claim abandonment in court, but doing so may be more legally complicated than filing under irreconcilable differences. Indeed, in many states that paperwork for a no-fault divorce is something that many individuals can handle without an attorney, particularly if the couple has no child or significant shared assets or debts. In such cases, a no-fault divorce can be less costly, not to mention, less stressful.
Even in cases where the couple has children, citing a spouse's fault in the marriage's failure may not benefit either party in child custody or financial matters. However, this does depend on state law, so it is good to get professional legal advice if you may have a "fault" divorce grounds and expect your spouse to challenge you on custody, property, or monetary issues. For example, if it is possible to prove that your spouse abandoned you or cheated on you and you have children together, some states may consider this when making a custody determination. Likewise, if your spouse knowingly abandoned you and left you without resources, this may be a consideration if you are requesting spousal support.
When the Couple Does not Agree
In some cases, one spouse may not believe that their marriage has differences that cannot be reconciled. If your partner has filed for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and you do not agree--for example, if you believe that your marriage may be fixed with counseling or a temporary separation--you may object to these grounds in your response to your spouse's divorce petition. Ultimately, you cannot force your spouse to stay with you, however. If your partner is unwilling to try to fix the marriage, the court cannot compel you to go to counseling or try to address your problems. While objecting to the irreconcilable differences grounds can prolong the divorce--and possibly require your spouse to cite an alternative reason for the divorce--simply objecting to the divorce will usually not halt the divorce process completely.
If you have filed for divorce based on irreconcilable differences and your spouse disagrees with your grounds, consult with a legal authority in your state on other grounds on which you could possible file for divorce. Generally, maintaining separate residences for a long enough period of time may be sufficient for the court to end the marriage. If your spouse simply does not respond to your divorce papers because he or she does not believe you have irreconcilable differences, then you may be able to file for divorce by default.This will simply allow the judge to grant you a divorce without hearing your spouse's objections.
Resources and Reading on Divorce and Irreconcilable Differences
- When You Need a Lawyer | Public Education
Almost everything we do—from making a purchase, to driving a car, to interacting with others—is affected by the law in some way. But clearly we don’t need a lawyer for all of these everyday interactions. When do you need a lawyer?
- findlegalhelp.org - Consumers' Guide to Legal Help - ABA
The American Bar Association's guide to state-specific legal resources, including licensed divorce attorneys.
- Do I Need a Reason to Get Divorced? - Lawyers.com
You must have a reason for divorce that's recognized by either your state's no-fault or fault-based divorce laws.
- Grounds for Divorce: Irreconcilable Differences - Lawyers.com
As a ground for divorce, irreconcilable differences is when you and your spouse can't, and never will, agree on certain fundamental issues in the marriage.