The Divorce Culture – Finding No Fault

So, you might be wondering, what’s this historical social-studies stuff have to do with your divorce? Everything! In 1969, California was the first state to enact “no-fault” divorce laws. An avalanche of legal reforms followed throughout the country that allowed us to leave our marriage vows behind, almost effortlessly, without requiring a judge to find fault with the party leaving or being left.

Now, the majority of states have no-fault divorce laws, and the rest of them have at least one no-fault ground of divorce available, should someone be inclined to end a marriage, even though the other spouse is perfectly innocent of “fault.” New York, the remaining “fault only” state, is the notable exception. (For a more detailed discussion of fault and legal grounds for divorce, keep reading!)

So I guess you could say that the legacy of the “make-love-not-war” generation is the “easy” divorce. Well, sort of. Divorce is almost never easy, emotionally speaking; but in a “no-fault” state, you no longer have to prove inhuman treatment, or adultery, or drunkenness, or abandonment to part ways. In fact, even if you’re the one with the “fault” you can get out of your marriage.

Unlike the old days, the big legal battles are fought over money or kids, not over who did what to whom-or with whom-when and where. Today you just pay your money (a court fee of about $250), check a few boxes on the appropriate preprinted petition or complaint form, (or, if no form is available, prepare your own pleading, explaining that you and your spouse are incompatible), and that’s it. You’re now a plaintiff or petitioner in your very own divorce case.

The New “Extra Strength” Marriage

So it goes with most things, the pendulum swings far in one direction- say, toward the easy way out of marriage. Then, in response, it swings back in the opposite direction-toward nuptials that are more difficult to end. That’s what the recently enacted covenant marriages are all about.

Some say it’s a way of putting fault back into divorce laws. Others believe it’s just a way of giving a couple choice, a more committed way to say “I do.” Whatever. Just know that if you have a covenant marriage, you’ll be facing a higher hurdle to divorce than the rest of us.

In the meantime, though they haven’t adopted the covenant marriage option, many states are considering tougher divorce laws, making it more difficult to split. Still, there’s no denying that divorce is part of our culture: an inalienable right demanded by the American public and protected by the constitution. So it seems the right to leave a marriage is here to stay.

© Marlene M. Browne

Excerpted by permission from Boomer’s Guide to Divorce (and a New Life), published July, 2004, by Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

About the Book: While boomers grew up watching solid marriages like those of the Ricardos, the Cleavers, and the Petries, they also learned that marriages sometimes don’t work out, and that the real-life effects-emotional and financial-are no laughing matter. For those who are ending marriages and starting over-while coping at the same time with teenaged children, aging parents, looming retirement, health and fitness concerns, and other midlife issues, this book offers valuable advice on:

  • Deciding whether you really want out
  • Setting yourself up for a “good” divorce, rather than a bitter one
  • Finding an attorney-and an accountant
  • Dealing with your family and friends-who gets custody of whom after a long-term marriage?
  • Getting through the minefields of the legal process (there are complications even in “no fault” divorce)
  • Starting over again-establishing credit, finding insurance coverage, and more

About the Author: Marlene Browne is a graduate of Boston College and Emory University School of Law, and has practiced family law since 1986. Ms. Browne lectures across the country on all topics related to family law and appears regularly on national radio and television. A divorced boomer herself, she lives on the East Coast with her divorced boomer husband, Chris, a captain for a major airline.