When people sit down with a divorce lawyer for the first time, they're often shocked to learn just how narrow the range of options is. The American family court systems aren't wild about getting into contentious divorces, and it takes a lot to convince a judge to even examine the possibility of a contested divorce. In some states, it's not even possible to pursue an at-fault divorce. You may want to ask a divorce attorney why that is so let's take a look at the legal reasoning.
It Used to be the Complete Opposite
No-fault divorce didn't even come into existence in the U.S. until California passed it into law under Governor Ronald Reagan in the late 1960s. The governor had been himself a person who had been through the divorce process, and he was keen to make it less painful. In a matter of a few decades, the no-fault system that emerged in the Golden State had become the de facto law of the entire country.
What made the old system especially difficult was that the lack of fault could lock people into failed marriages. A couple might have what are now called irreconcilable differences, but neither could end things because no one had been unfaithful, committed fraud, been abusive or done any of the handful of things that used to take to prove fault. People often went to extreme steps, such as having their partners ruled mentally unwell, to get out of marriages.
What No-Fault Divorce Means
The idea is simple: either partner can unilaterally declare that differences exist in the marriage and that they can't be resolved. The court accepts these claims at face value, and there is no examination of things like who cheated on whom or if abuse occurred. Some states require periods of months or even years if one partner is unsatisfied with the no-fault route, but all states will eventually allow one person to end a marriage without the other's approval.
Most attempts to pursue at-fault divorces center on money and assets. It's not unusual for a partner to suspect, for example, that the other person has secret accounts or isn't valuing collectibles properly. The reality is that most of these claims end up being dead ends that only accumulate fees for divorce lawyers. Generally, there isn't enough money at stake to be worth the bother, especially given that spousal support is awarded based on a formula.