Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce: Understanding Both Options

Some divorces involve a level of fault. A partner lies, cheats, or steals, and the relationship falls apart.

In some states, the aggrieved party could use the trauma to incite the divorce, and those mistakes could get that person a bigger slice of the estate. 

But in no-fault states, no one must discuss mistakes to start the divorce. And one party’s trauma doesn’t automatically result in a change in estate distribution. 

What is a fault divorce?

In states like Arkansas, couples must cite very specific grounds for divorce, such as these:

  • Impotence 
  • Habitual drunkenness
  • Adultery 

One couple cites the reason in divorce papers, and the other party can respond. At this stage, the party at fault could contest the grounds. Without proof, the entire divorce process could fail. 

In fault states, many couples hire private investigators to dig up proof of their partner’s problem. That evidence could cause additional emotional damage, even if it provides grounds for divorce. 

What is a no-fault divorce?

In states like California, no one has to prove someone did something wrong to start a divorce case. This no-fault divorce process means one party can proceed with the divorce even if the other person doesn’t want one. There’s no way to contest that person’s filing, as you can’t prove the other doesn’t want to be married anymore. 

Fault vs. no-fault divorce: What’s the difference? 

In all states, divorces begin when one party files official paperwork with the court system. The main difference between fault and no-fault divorces involves the stated reason for a divorce.

For a fault divorce, one party must pick a divorce trigger. If the other party disagrees, they can go to court over whether the reason for the divorce is valid.

For a no-fault divorce, one party cites "irreconcilable differences," and the break-up moves forward. The reason for the divorce isn't examined, and the case proceeds accordingly. 

No-fault divorces typically move faster and are, therefore, less expensive than their fault-based counterparts. But people who absolutely do not want to get divorced may be dismayed that they can't toss out the reasons for the split in court. 



2010 Arkansas Code Title 9. Justia.
Divorce in California. Judicial Branch of California. 
What Is An Uncontested Divorce? (July 2022). Forbes.
The Lost History of No-Fault Divorces. (December 2022). JSTOR Daily.

Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.