Grounds for Divorce: Why All The Confusion?

Much confusion has arisen surrounding the grounds for divorce. Lets clear up those confusions.

I. First of all, don’t confuse the grounds for divorce with the issues in your case.

The grounds for divorce are simply the basis for filing the first pleading called the divorce “complaint.” There are several “fault” grounds for divorce that are still on the books, but they are rarely if ever used. Those grounds are: desertion, deviant sexual conduct, drug addiction and drunkenness, institutionalization for mental illness, imprisonment and desertion.

By and large, most divorces complaints these days recite “no fault” grounds, also known as “irreconcilable differences.” This is because the grounds for divorce, whether fault grounds or no-fault grounds, don’t have any bearing upon the outcome of the case. This is not to say, however, that facts which characterize your marriage such as a drug addiction, alcoholism, or extreme cruelty won’t impact an issue in your case. For example, if a parent has a drug addiction it will most definitely impact which parent has Primary Residential Custody of the children and what the parenting time arrangements might be for the drug addicted parent. It’s just that you don’t have to plead those facts in the divorce complaint as the grounds for the divorce in order for the Court to consider them when making decisions. You may plead them if you wish, but you don’t have to plead them in order to introduce them into the case later for other reasons.

A word about adultery: while adultery is probably one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, of marital offenses to deal with emotionally as a spouse, it rarely if ever impacts anything in the outcome of a divorce case. Therefore, the only reason to file a complaint based upon grounds of adultery is if you, the client, want to do so for personal reasons. While we don’t discourage this, we also don’t encourage it. We leave it up to you to decide after we discuss it.

II. Don’t confuse the old law with the new law.

Second of all, don’t confuse the old law with the new law. Prior to January, 2007, spouses had to live separate and apart in different residences for eighteen months in order to qualify for a no-fault divorce. In January, 2007, New Jersey passed a statute that permitted no-fault divorces even if spouses are living together, so long as irreconcilable differences caused the breakdown of the marriage for a period of six months and there is no reasonable prospect of a reconciliation. This changed the prior law that the parties had to live separate and apart for a period of eighteen months in order to obtain a no fault divorce.

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