What is the Difference Between Fault and No-Fault Divorce?

In Alabama, spouses can seek a divorce based on the misconduct of their partner, known as a fault-based divorce, or they can pursue a no-fault divorce simply citing the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Before determining which option is right for you, it is important to understand some of the key differences between the two.

No-Fault Divorces in Alabama

A no-fault divorce is the most popular choice for divorcing couples in Alabama. With this option, neither spouse needs to prove that their partner did something wrong to trigger the dissolution of their marriage.

Ala. Code §30-2-1(9) defines no-fault divorces in the following way:

Upon application of either party, when the court finds there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and that further attempts at reconciliation are impractical or futile and not in the best interests of the parties or family.

In other words, the spouses are seeking a divorce because they are no longer compatible together and there is no reasonable hope of them reconciling. Although either or both spouses may very well believe that their partner’s actions caused or contributed to their breakup, they do not want to take the time and shoulder the expense of proving this in court.

Fault-Based Grounds for Divorce in Alabama

Although most Alabama couples pursue a divorce on a no-fault basis, they still have the option to file for a fault-based divorce. When someone chooses this option, they are alleging that their spouse is the cause of the divorce based on one of the satisfactory grounds. Legal grounds for a divorce in Alabama may include:

  • Infidelity on the part of either spouse.
  • Voluntary abandonment from bed and board for one year prior to filing.
  • Domestic violence. When either party has committed violence against the other and endangered their life or health.
  • When either party has been imprisoned in a state penitentiary for at least two years of a sentence that is at least seven years.
  • Commission of an unnatural crime. A crime against nature (whether mankind or beast) either before or during the marriage.
  • After the marriage becoming addicted to habitual drunkenness or habitual use of various illegal drugs.
  • Mental illness. Being confined to a mental hospital after the marriage for a period of five successive years with no reasonable hope of recovery.
  • Physical incapacitation. When one spouse was incurably physically incapacitated at the time of the marriage.
  • Unannounced pregnancy. In favor of the husband if the wife was pregnant at the time of the marriage and the husband did not know about it.

As we talked about earlier, the time and expense that is usually necessary to prove fault is not worth the effort for most divorcing spouses, even if they might have a valid reason to pursue a fault-based divorce. This is especially true if the spouse is likely to challenge the allegation, which could lead to a costly and protracted court battle.

All of that said, there are a few reasons that a spouse might want to consider filing for a fault-based divorce. For example, if the grounds for the divorce is adultery and the unfaithful spouse has spent a significant amount of money on their illicit partner, this could form the basis for the plaintiff spouse to ask for a larger share of the marital estate and/or for punitive alimony.

Another common situation in which a fault-based divorce might be a better option is when the grounds for the divorce is domestic violence. When this is the case and there are children involved, for example, then it might be worthwhile to document the abuse in order to obtain a more favorable child custody arrangement that protects the abused spouse and children.

Choosing between a no-fault and fault-based divorce is one of the most important decisions you will make as you begin the marriage dissolution process. And because each specific circumstance is unique, it is always best to rely on the guidance of your attorney to decide which option is best in your case.

Contact Our Experienced Alabama Family Law Attorneys

If you are considering filing for divorce in southern Alabama, Stone Crosby, P.C. is here to help. Our firm has been serving this area for over a century, and our attorneys have in-depth knowledge of the complexities involved with divorces and other family legal matters.

To schedule a personalized consultation with a member of our legal team, message us online or call our Daphne, AL office today at (251) 626-6696.