Demystifying Divorce: Understanding the No-Fault Approach

Demystifying Divorce: Understanding the No-Fault Approach

Arizona divorce is unique compared to divorce in much of the country because of the interesting circumstances regarding fault in the state. Fault in divorce means one person can prove the other did something wrong, necessitating the divorce. While in fault-based states, a couple must prove fault to have grounds for divorce, couples who divorce in no-fault states do not have to reveal the reasons they are divorcing.

Seventeen states are considered true no-fault divorce states, but Arizona isn’t one of them because of one rare detail that applies to less than 1% of all US divorce cases: covenant marriage. In fact, Arizona is often listed as an at-fault state by some sources because it offers the unique option of a covenant marriage, which, by the request of the couple, requires an at-fault divorce. Only two other states besides Arizona offer the option of a covenant marriage (Arkansas and Louisiana), so it is a rather unique facet of Arizona family law.

This blog post unveils the shroud of mystery surrounding the divorce options in Arizona, sheds light on both no-fault divorces and at-fault divorces, explains their differences and the benefits of each, and reveals facts about covenant marriages.

How No-Fault Divorce Came to Be

To make divorce less complex and more accessible, all 50 states have adopted the no-fault divorce approach, which requires neither party in a divorce to be considered “at fault” for a broken marital relationship. However, some states still require couples to state a reason or grounds for their divorce. States that do not require couples to cite grounds for divorce are considered true no-fault divorce states. In states that are not true no-fault divorce states, the stated grounds for divorce may or may not impact other divorce issues, such as the distribution of property and other commonly disputed areas.

It depends on the state, the judge, and the specific situation as to whether the cited grounds for divorce will have any influence on other matters of divorce. In states like Arizona, where there is no required indication of whose actions or behaviors led to the need for marital dissolution, there are no potential grounds to influence the outcome of a divorce. That means things like property division are not affected because one spouse was unfaithful, for example.

As a result, all Arizona no-fault divorce cases are considered to be due to an irretrievably broken marriage, with no questions asked regarding grounds for the divorce.

What Does It Mean to Get a No-Fault Divorce?

No-Fault Divorce

A no-fault divorce literally means neither party will be faulted in court for causing the divorce. While some states do require couples to have a reason for divorce, Arizona does not require such allegations or any proof to support those allegations in order for a judge to grant a divorce. In other words, there is no need for allegations of infidelity, abandonment, or other grounds for divorce to be presented or proven in court for the dissolution of a marriage in Arizona.

Who Can’t Get a No-Fault Divorce in AZ?

There is one exception to Arizona’s no-fault divorce, and it is the reason Arizona is not considered a true no-fault divorce state. Arizona allows couples to enter into covenant marriages, which have unique requirements for both marriage and divorce. As mentioned, covenant marriages are recognized in only three states, Arizona being one of them.

About Covenant Marriage

This type of marriage is a legal union couples willingly pursue that requires a couple to make serious decisions and submit to several prerequisites before they marry. These requirements are designed to ensure the couple understands the serious commitment of marriage before the wedding date arrives.

To pursue a covenant marriage in Arizona, a couple must:

  • Attend special marriage counseling with a professional counselor or clergy member.
  • Declare their intention for a covenant marriage.
  • Acknowledge that marriage is a serious contract that binds the spouses for life
  • Promise to attend counseling in times of marital hardship.
  • Acknowledge the extremely limited grounds for covenant divorce.
  • Sign an affidavit before the counselor that attests to the counseling and that they both reviewed a pamphlet about the above facts of a covenant marriage and agreed to uphold them.

Should couples in a covenant marriage one day decide to divorce, they are consciously and willingly accepting the fact that it will be much more difficult for them to end their marriage. This is both because of the limited acceptable reasons for divorce and the additional steps required to obtain a fault-based covenant divorce.

Grounds for divorce in a covenant marriage are limited to:

  • One spouse was unfaithful.
  • One spouse committed a crime that resulted in a prison sentence.
  • One spouse abandoned the other for over 365 days.
  • One spouse committed physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse of the other spouse or any children.
  • One spouse regularly abuses alcohol or drugs, negatively impacting the other.
  • The couple decided to live apart from one another and did so for two or more years.
  • Another court granted legal separation, and the spouses have lived apart for one or more years.
  • Both spouses fully agree to the divorce.
Before you can obtain a covenant divorce in Arizona, you must attend marital counseling. Alternatively, you must prove the other spouse abandoned you or that you were granted a separation by another court. If the other spouse contests your reason for divorce, the divorce will proceed as a contested, at-fault divorce.

What Is an At-Fault Divorce?

Although at-fault divorces only exist in covenant marriages in Arizona, to thoroughly understand no-fault divorces, it is helpful to understand at-fault divorces. An at-fault divorce is the culmination of a covenant marriage. When a couple decides to enter into a covenant marriage, they commit to undergoing premarital counseling prior to getting married and agree to a stricter process for divorcing if they ever should decide to dissolve their marriage. Thus, covenant marriages are not eligible for no-fault divorces by design.
An at-fault divorce requires that one spouse be held responsible or be deemed “at-fault” for the cause of the broken marriage.
What Is an At-Fault Divorce
Furthermore, this responsibility must be proven in court in order for the marriage to be legally dissolved. In other words, one or both spouses must allege a divorce-warranting behavior or circumstance against the other spouse before a judge will grant the divorce. As mentioned, grounds for an at-fault divorce in a covenant marriage range from adultery to the death penalty.

Differences Between At-Fault and No-Fault Divorce

When compared side by side, the differences between a no-fault and at-fault divorce become very clear. The main difference between a no-fault and at-fault divorce is that in an at-fault divorce, the law requires proof of responsibility for the termination of the marriage. On the other hand, a no-fault divorce in Arizona requires nothing other than one spouse simply wanting to file for divorce because they feel the marriage is irretrievably broken.

The other major difference arises from the need to prove the betrayal of a spouse to establish grounds for a fault-based divorce. In theory, in an at-fault divorce, one party may not want to divorce and may try to cover up their behavior or suppress their spouse from revealing adequate evidence to properly establish grounds for divorce. Thus, if the filing spouse cannot prove their partner is at fault and responsible for grounds for a divorce, then the divorce will not be granted. This could potentially leave someone stuck in a marriage they don’t want to be in. Worse, it could potentially perpetuate a dangerous situation.

Benefits of an Arizona No-Fault Divorce

The benefits of a no-fault divorce are significant. First, divorcing couples aren’t forced to spend time and money on investigations, witnesses, legal fees, and other expenses to prove fault in order to get divorced. Nor do they have to remain married if they fail to prove their spouse acted in a way that warrants a divorce.

In a no-fault divorce, there can still be resentment between divorcing couples; however, when fault is left out of divorce court, there is often less tension and animosity. In general, no-fault divorce is less difficult and results in a much quicker outcome. There is also less exposure in a no-fault divorce, as there is no detail of private affairs of the couple’s business entered into the public record, as there is when grounds for divorce are divulged. This privacy and simplicity cuts down on conflict and makes the divorce process more akin to the ending of a business contract than an emotional affair, which is an opportune situation for everyone involved.

Comparing Divorce in Arizona With Other States

Comparing Divorce in Arizona With Other States

Pre-planning is a popular trend in modern-day society, especially for both marrying and divorcing couples. The availability of travel and remote careers offers some marrying or divorcing couples somewhat of a choice regarding which state to marry or divorce. It is important, though, to acknowledge the fact that divorce laws are different in every state. Anyone relocating must understand the laws of other states that apply to them when they move. Because of this, some individuals may choose to research laws in various states in order to optimize the marriage or divorce process. In addition, anyone who moves and could potentially be getting married or divorced in a new state should have an understanding of how differing state laws can affect them.

For instance, the process of no-fault divorce in Arizona requires a 90-day residency by one of the spouses. Arizona does recognize legal separation, which a couple can file for at any time regardless of the length of residency, as long as one of them resides in the state at the time of filing. However, other states have wildly different laws regarding divorce and separation. Texas, for example, requires residency of a minimum of six months by one spouse and does not recognize legal separation. Therefore, a couple seeking a timely divorce would be able to initiate divorce proceedings and potentially finish them much quicker in Arizona than they could in Texas. Likewise, California has a six-month wait period, and while the state does offer a no-fault divorce, it does recognize grounds for divorce. These grounds generally have little to no effect on any matters involved in divorce proceedings.

What does affect California divorce outcomes is its other divorce laws. California divorce differs from other states in that they recognize community property as well as quasi-community property in the division of marital property. Quasi-community property laws are unique to California and recognize property that a married couple owns outside of California and may be located in a state where community property laws don’t match up with those of California. For instance, Utah is a non-community property state in which marital assets are not necessarily split equally between the two divorcing parties but are divided by considering a number of factors such as spousal contribution, length of marriage, and more. The intent is to arrive at an equitable distribution of property that is fair for all involved. While Arizona is a community property state, in that all property obtained during a marriage is considered jointly owned, Arizona family court strives to divide that property roughly in half.

How Could State Divorce Laws Affect Your Divorce?

Although all states apply the no-fault divorce approach to regular marriages, some states still require a couple to state their grounds for divorce, such as Georgia. While grounds for divorce are not the sole factor in any one outcome of divorce, they may still have an effect on a case if it is put in the hands of a judge to resolve disputes. For instance, if grounds for divorce imply marital funds or assets were spent to facilitate activities or behavior that led to the divorce, such as adultery or drug use, then this “fault” may have an impact on certain decisions made by the judge regarding the division of property or spousal support.

In states that apply “fair and equitable” property distribution to divorce cases (i.e., non-community property states), a judge may allow the grounds to sway property division, child custody, child support, and alimony. However, Arizona is a true no-fault divorce state in that divorcees are not required to identify any specific reason for the dissolution of their marriage outside of the understanding that it is “irretrievably broken.” In Arizona no-fault divorce cases, there are no questions asked regarding the behavior or actions of individuals leading up to their divorce. This is a significant convenience for Arizona residents involved in divorce.

Arizona’s divorce laws are fairly similar to most states, outside of offering an at-fault divorce/covenant marriage option and having a shorter residency requirement than many states require.

Critiques and Controversies Around At-Fault Divorce

The large majority of states do not consider at-fault divorce a useful practice, and for good reason. If couples cannot pursue a no-fault divorce, there is the possibility of someone getting stuck in a marriage simply because they can’t prove valid grounds for divorce, as mentioned previously. This could be dangerous in the event there is abuse occurring.

Furthermore, if a couple in a covenant marriage wishes to divorce but no longer lives in an at-fault state, one of them would have to move to a state where their divorce would be legally recognized. Then, they would need to meet the residency requirements of the state. This becomes a major inconvenience for those trying to divorce in a covenant marriage because they simply do not have the option of no-fault divorce. This means those considering a covenant marriage should not take the decision lightly and weigh the option considerably based on their own personal situation.

The no-fault divorce is not without its opposition, either, though. There are some people who oppose the no-fault divorce approach, citing that it makes it too easy for couples to divorce. Many people who enter into covenant marriages are part of religious groups and feel it should not be simple to end such a sacred bond.

Treating Marriage Like a Business

While there are still a few states that offer an at-fault divorce, the majority of states have amended their laws to treat the dissolution of a marriage like the ending of a business contract. There are notably fewer divorces in covenant marriages compared to traditional marriage. It is unknown whether this is due to the premarital counseling these couples endure, the difficulty of getting divorced under these circumstances, or the tendency of those who enter into covenant marriages to stay married despite obstacles.

The bottom line is that there is still a sector of the population interested in a covenant marriage with strengthened divorcing requirements. So, while covenant marriage is rare, it is still something unique that Arizona can offer to its residents, as well as visitors of the state. Consequently, the same goes for a covenant or at-fault divorce. The majority of marriages, though, are and will likely continue to be traditional legal unions that are eligible for a no-fault divorce.

Determining What Is Right for You with a Skilled Family Law Attorney

Skilled Family Law Attorney

When you’re determining the best path you should take as a couple, whether before marriage or after, it’s essential to consult with a skilled family law attorney. Speaking with an attorney who can answer questions and suggest options that can accommodate your needs can shed more light on the implications of marriage, covenant marriage, and divorce. In addition, documents like prenuptial or post-nuptial agreements can often resolve issues that both married and divorcing couples face.

If you have firsthand experience with no-fault, fault-based, or covenant divorce, we would love to hear what you have to say about your personal experience. In addition, if you would like to share your personal thoughts on the matter of divorce, we welcome those comments below.

If you or someone you know is in need of confidential, personalized guidance regarding marriage, covenant marriage, or divorce in Arizona, The Valley Law Group can help. Our team of experienced family law attorneys is available to counsel you on your case or advise you on your pressing legal matters with kindness and compassion. We welcome you to contact us to schedule a consultation today.

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