The concept of “fault” in divorce exists on a spectrum, from purely “no-fault” to “fault,” with many amalgamations in between. For example, in solely “no-fault” states, couples can divorce without proving any misconduct by the other party, and with no direct impact on the outcome of divorce proceedings. They are only required to provide an accepted reason under the law such as “irreconcilable differences.”
On the other hand, in fault-based states, spouses may cite specific forms of marital misconduct, such as adultery or domestic abuse, when filing their initial Complaint for Divorce. Depending on the state, courts may consider the grounds for divorce when making determinations regarding alimony, division of assets, or child custody. With regard to fault in divorce, New Jersey operates within a mixed model, allowing for no-fault and fault divorces. Understanding the requirements for each form of divorce and the associated implications will allow you to proceed with the type of divorce that best serves your needs.
First and foremost, a “no-fault” divorce simply means that the marriage is no longer sustainable, due to no major misconduct by either party. New Jersey accepts two distinct grounds for a no-fault divorce: separation and irreconcilable differences. Separation is considered valid grounds for a no-fault divorce in situations wherein the spouses have been living separately for a period of at least 18 months. Conversely, you may cite irreconcilable differences if you and your spouse are still sharing a home but have experienced significant marital breakdown for a period of at least 6 months. Essentially, a no-fault divorce requires that you and your spouse have reached an impasse in your relationship that persists over a period of time, making it clear that there is no reasonable chance for reconciliation.
As the name implies, a “fault” divorce involves a situation wherein one spouse has caused or significantly contributed to the breakdown of the marriage through some form of marital misconduct. New Jersey law outlines the valid grounds for a fault divorce in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2. The various forms of behavior that may constitute grounds for a fault divorce in New Jersey include the following:
- Willful abandonment or desertion (for a period of at least 12 months)
- Physical abuse
- Extreme mental cruelty
- Deviant sexual conduct
- Substance Abuse
- Incarceration for a period of at least 18 months
- Institutionalization for mental illness for a period of at least 24 months
The fundamental question when considering your divorce filing in New Jersey is whether or not New Jersey courts will consider the presence of fault as an influencing factor when making significant determinations with regard to alimony, division of assets, or child custody. In the division of assets process, fault is irrelevant, and thus will not impact the way in which assets are divided. On the other hand, in cases involving child custody, behavior such as physical abuse, mental cruelty, substance abuse, or mental illness will likely be taken into account and measured against the “best interests of the child” standard. Alimony falls within a somewhat gray area, as it is determined on a case-by-case basis and is highly variable. For example, if one spouse committed adultery during the marriage and during such conduct, depleted marital assets, a judge may consider this when determining the amount and duration of alimony.
Clearly, marriages are complex relationships with significant emotional and financial investment by both sides. As such, more often than not, divorce raises questions of responsibility and blame among spouses. Although these personal feelings may arise, it is important to make the best decisions regarding fault within a legal context, in order to ensure that your interests are thoroughly protected as you move on with your life.
For additional information and the answers to your divorce-related questions, contact our Bergen County, New Jersey divorce attorneys at 201-397-1750 for a cost-free consultation.